May is always a busy month for the park, May Bank Holiday usually being the time for Open Days and fundraisers at the AWCP. But with the lingering pandemic, alternative activities will most probably be likely again this year. May is also a popular month for International Days. This year we have; World Bee Day on the 20th, Endangered Species Day on the 21st and World Otter Day on the 26th. Look out for information and events on those dates on Instagram and Facebook pages for the AWCP this month!
With the internship training program back on track after last year’s lockdown, alongside their animal husbandry training at the zoo, interns are encouraged to produce a small research project of their choice. Many of the topics include an aspect of animal behaviour, something the team is well-equipped to assist with. Manager Jess Leaper has a Masters in Evolutionary Psychology & Behavioural Ecology and Primate Keeper, Nic Campbell has a Masters in Primate Conservation Biology, including several months of primate behavioural research in Peru and South America. Both are keen to develop a research program at the Park. Nic’s partner, Thiago Pereira, a PhD level Primatologist has been drafted in to voluntarily assist with training the interns on how to study and record animal behaviour. Much of this starts with good observation and understanding of the animal subject, something that all zookeepers invariably become very adept at.
9am – One of the crucial parts of a zookeeper’s day when they first enter the animals exhibits to feed and clean, is to observe the animals closely to look for any changes in behaviour, any unusual behaviours or signs of illness or distress. After many years working with the same animals, this becomes almost instinctual. For those new to the job, this process can take a little longer. Knowledge of and an understanding of animal behaviour and experience of normal species behaviours is definitely an advantage. Jenna Reeves joined the AWCP as an Education Intern in March. Prior to coming to Gibraltar, Jenna was working at a Safari Lodge in South Africa. After her Internship at the AWCP she plans to study Wildlife Conservation at University. Since being at the AWCP, Jenna has been learning about animal observation and animal behaviour. This has proven very useful when tending to the different species of animal at the park, animals she had never worked with before, like the Egyptian fruit bats. One morning on entering the fruit bat enclosure, Jenna noted some strange behaviour from one of the bats. While all the other bats flew to the other end of the enclosure, one was lagging behind. On closer inspection, Jenna saw that the bat had a swollen joint on his wing. She immediately called the Keeper to have a closer look. It turned out to be Jeff the bat, (now a local celebrity) who had been undergoing treatment for a similar injury last year. Sadly, it seems his injury has returned, so it was back to the animal hospital area for Jeff, where he is now making good progress and should soon be back with his group.
2pm Once the animals have been cleaned and fed and the park is ready to receive visitors, Keepers and volunteers can concentrate on other tasks. Each Intern is encouraged to produce a short research project during their time at the AWCP. Not only does this help to enhance their learning, encouraging wider reading and research, but also it is a great resource for future Interns and for the AWCP. One of the valuable aspects for zoos is their contribution to crucial research and data collection on a wide variety of species. Data collected in zoos on captive breeding has been crucial in helping to save many species from extinction in the wild. Species such as the Echo parakeet, would be extinct if it wasn’t for the expertise and knowledge built up over many years of zoo captive breeding programs. In 1986 less than a dozen birds existed in the wild, and only three were female. Without emergency help from Jersey Zoo, this bird would have been as dead as the iconic Dodo on their logo.
One of the first parts of the behavioural research training will be to introduce the students to behavioural research and how to create behavioural research templates and ‘ethograms’ (a catalogue or list of behaviours exhibited by an animal that creates and inventory of actions/movements or patterns). These templates can then be used as baselines for future projects by Keepers, students and interns at the AWCP. The first subject is Suzie the African grey parrot. Suzie came to the AWCP over a year ago. Her owners were unable to keep her so she became part of the collection. At only three years old, Suzie is still learning how to be a bird. Parrots are highly intelligent and require a lot of attention. The hope is that Suzie can soon join the larger group of African grey parrots. The aim of Jenna’s project will be to assess her baseline behaviour now and compare with her behaviour through the introduction with the group and after. “This imminent introduction is a perfect opportunity for me to study the behaviour of a hand-reared bird being integrated into a group of parrots. I am only here for three months so I am really pleased there is a project opportunity like this that I can get involved in,” Says Jenna.
4pm – Much the same as in the morning, the closing routine at the park involves observation of the animals, as well as checking that all areas are secure, the animals are content and of course, that all public have left the park. Intern training involves all aspects of zoo keeping and also introductions to zoo management. At the end of the day, and throughout the day, any observations; signs of illness, behavioural changes, sickness, weights and medical interventions, are all noted down by the Keepers in an Animal Diary. This data is later transferred to the worldwide database system; ZIMS (Zoological Information Management System). This database is accessible worldwide and this means that all the data on all zoo species that is collected by zoos can be accessed and utilised worldwide. Head Keeper, Steve Bryant is responsible for making sure all this data is entered into the AWCP database, but all staff and interns are given training on ZIMS data input, an invaluable skill for their future careers.
Visit the AWCP website at
www.awcp.gi for more information and updates. Keep a look out on their social media pages – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – for upcoming events!