Conservation & Research

Scientific Papers

Deer in the Woods
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Glow and Behold: Biofluorescence and New Insights on the Tails of Pitvipers (Viperidae: Crotalinae) and Other Snakes (Paul & Mendyk, 2021).

June 2021

A paper in Herpetological Review looked into tail biofluorescence in pitvipers (Crotalinae) & other snakes:
Crotalinae: 10 genera, 28 species, both captive and wild specimens examined;
Biofluorescence detected in 78.6% of crotaline taxa examined, in both wild & captive individuals;
Fluorescence restricted to tail in various pitvipers: potential association with behaviour or function (possible explanations provided);
Study arose from detection of fluorescence in captive snakes - captive animals contribute to "pure" science and to our understanding of the natural world.

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Sentinel behavior in captive meerkats (Huels & Stoeger, 2021).

August 2021

A paper in Zoo Biology studied sentinel behaviour in zoo-housed meerkats:

Some individuals spent more time as sentinels than others ("Super Sentinels" as observed in the wild);

Sentinels reacted more strongly to playback calls of predatory species ability to identify predators not lost in captivity;

Sentinel behaviour = innate but further affected by experience

LASER SOFTWARE_Schneider and Dierkes 202

Localize Animal Sound Events Reliably (LASER): A New Software for Sound Localization in Zoos (Schneider & Dierkes, 2021).

April 2021

A paper in JZBG reported the development and testing of a software for sound localisation in zoos:
Tests included both playbacks and real conditions in a zoo enclosure;
High accuracy in identifying correct position of a sound source;
Software offers opportunities for research and animal welfare monitoring.

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The effects of a zoo environment on free‐living, native small mammal species (Elwell et al., 2021).

March 2021

A study in Zoo Biology investigated the presence of native, free-living, small mammal species in different enclosures at Dudley Zoo:

Small mammal species diversity was similar across habitats;

Small mammal abundance was higher in woodland areas;

Lowest abundance near enclosures with predatory species;

Urban zoos can benefit native wildlife by providing green spaces, food sources and shelter.

DNA identification_Paper_Knowsley Safari

On‐site genetic analysis for species identification using lab‐on‐a‐chip (Wimbles et al., 2021).

January 2021

A microfluidic device for on-site genetic analysis has been developed and presented in a new paper:

Portable & cost-effective system for DNA & species identification;

Tested on zoo-housed white rhinoceros: quickly identified DNA in dung samples;

Applications to field research & conservation (e.g. population monitoring; quick identification & prosecution of illegal wildlife trade).


Photo credit: Knowsley Safari

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Evaluation of an odour detection dog for non-invasive pregnancy diagnosis in polar bears (Ursus maritimus): Considerations for training sniffer dogs for biomedical investigations in wildlife species (Curry et al., 2021)

January 2021

Can odour detection dogs identify pregnancy in faecal samples from zoo-housed polar bears? A study in JZAR found the following:

The dog accurately ignored faecal samples from non-pregnant females during testing (high specificity);

However, the dog only accurately identified faecal samples from pregnant females in the training sessions - it failed during testing (low sensitivity);

Potential reasons discussed: perhaps dog was unable to generalise odour to novel pregnancies?


Flamingo 2020: Journal of the IUCN SSC Flamingo Specialist Group

December 2020

Flamingo 2020 - the open access journal of the IUCN SSC Flamingo Specialist Group

- is now available, featuring 14 papers on both in-situ & ex-situ flamingo-focussed research!


Zoo-based papers:

Paper 5: Enclosure alterations for improved lesser flamingo health and welfare at the Oregon Zoo (Suhn, 2020).

Paper 6: Substrate influence on the prevalence of bumblefoot in captive Chilean flamingos: Assessing the use of infrared thermography as a diagnostic screening tool (Illing et al., 2020).

Paper 7Pink birds and baseball stars… renovations of the flamingo enclosure at the Birmingham Zoo, Alabama, USA (Pitchford, 2020).

Paper 8Hand rearing Chilean flamingo chicks at Belfast Zoo (Murphy, 2020).

Paper 11: Behavioural observations to evaluate natural instinct in hand-raised rescued lesser flamingos in South Africa (Bony, 2020)

Paper 13Cross-fostering as a reproductive strategy for lesser flamingos at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (Ray, 2020).

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Bearing fruit: Piloting a novel judgment bias task in an American black bear (Vonk et al., 2020).

December 2020

A study in Zoo Biology evaluated seasonal changes in optimistic/pessimistic responses in a zoo-housed American black bear, using a novel judgment bias task:

The most optimistic responses observed during mulberry season (when the animal had access to mulberries in outdoor enclosure);

Evidence of quantity-based discrimination;

Potential applications to enrichment programmes.


Photo credit: Detroit Zoo

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Paw preference in wolves (Canis lupus): A preliminary study using manipulative tasks (Regaiolli et al., 2020)

December 2020

Do wolves show motor lateralization? A case study investigated paw preference of seven zoo-housed wolves when interacting with enrichment:

✔ Most wolves used one paw rather than both during manipulation;

✔ Lateralization seen in all individuals;

✔ All individuals but the alpha male were right-pawed.


Photo credit: Parco Natura Viva

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Coconut feeding of the babirusa (Babyrousa spp.) (Ito et al., 2020)

September 2020

A study published this year looked into coconut feeding behaviour in captive babirusas:

✔ Preference for certain parts of the coconut over others;

✔ They crushed open young coconuts but NOT mature ones;

✔ Parts eaten have no economic value to farmers;

✔ Little evidence suggesting babirusas are pests for farmers.

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Calibrating tri-axial accelerometers for remote behavioural observations in Bewick’s swans (Nuijten et al., 2020).

October 2020

Zoo Research can be a great tool in the study of wild individuals! New paper out in JZAR described how the calibration of accelerometer sensors was done in captive Bewick's swans and then subsequently used on free-living animals:
Overall accuracy of 91% across five behavioural classes;
Classification used to generate activity budgets of wild individuals, which showed high accuracy.


Photo credit: Burgers' Zoo


Zoo animals as “proxy species” for threatened sister taxa: Defining a novel form of species surrogacy (Kerr, 2020)

October 2020

New paper in Zoo Biology discusses how the large number of non-threatened species housed in zoos can still play a big role in conservation:
They can be used as "proxy species" for threatened sister taxa that are not common or present in zoo collections;
This can be considered a new form of surrogacy, giving conservation value to zoo animals even when they are not threatened in the wild.


Photo credit: Henry Vilas Zoo

Ex situ options for cetacean conservatio

Ex situ options for cetacean conservation (IUCN SSC, 2020)

October 2020

The IUCN Species Survival Commission released the "Ex situ options for cetacean conservation" report, based on a workshop that took place in 2018 at Tiergarten Nürnberg. The report is extensive and detailed, but here are some interesting conclusions:
Several cetacean species suffered swift & drastic declines;
Current gaps in knowledge & information need to be urgently filled, in order to better anticipate & avoid extinctions;
Noticeable improvement in the breeding and care of bottlenose dolphins in captivity - knowledge that is potentially transferable to other species;
Zoo & aquariums have skills & resources that are valuable for integrated conservation actions.

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How many bird and mammal extinctions has recent conservation action prevented? (Bolam et al., 2020)

September 2020

New study measured the degree of extinction preventions in bird & mammal species, since 1993:
21-32 bird extinctions prevented;
7-16 mammal extinctions prevented;
Extinction rates would have been 2.9–4.2x higher without conservation;
Zoos among organisations behind these conservation actions


Photo credit: Scimitar-horned oryx reintroduction (ZSL)


Artificial eyespots on cattle reduce predation by large carnivores (Radford et al., 2020)

August 2020

Because we love ALL science, in and outside the zoo, here is a fascinating study on livestock predation... It was found that:
Cattle painted with eyespots are safer from predators (lions & leopards) than both cross-marked & unmarked cattle;
Cross-marked cattle showed higher survival from predators than unmarked cattle;
Artificial marks have the potential to reduce livestock predation.