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Postgraduate studies

POSTGRADUATE COURSES

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Manchester Metropolitan University

(In partnership with Chester Zoo)

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University of Plymouth

(In partnership with Paignton Zoo)

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Sparsholt University Centre

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Askham Bryan College

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University of Plymouth

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Sparsholt University Centre

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Higher Education in Other UK Zoos:

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Taught courses

MRes, MPhil & PhD opportunities

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PhD project: Fostering resilience in captive great apes (University of Birmingham)

Great apes held in captivity need resilience: the ability to ‘bounce back’ following setbacks. This is particularly true for apes entering sanctuaries or rehabilitation centres, as they have usually endured traumatic conditions, including killing of their mother and separation from their social group, which can have lasting psychological effects, impairing their resilience. This in turn threatens to reduce the effectiveness of conservation programs involving rehabilitation and release of ex-captive individuals, as reduced resilience may make it less likely that apes will be able to thrive in the wild.

However, even zoo-housed apes may need to build their resilience. One of the factors contributing to low resilience is experiencing a lack of agency. This affects captive apes in all settings because they often have no choice about when to feed and forage, what to eat, or which individuals to socialise with. Routine management practices which are important for the apes’ health or their conservation may impose stressful or frustrating situations which they cannot escape or avoid (e.g., regular veterinary health checks or treatment involving capture and sedation/anaesthesia, temporary or longer-term separation from their social group during treatment and recovery). Collection management (such as species breeding programmes) may mean that individuals are moved between institutions and must integrate into a new social group. Unlike dispersal in the wild, captive apes have no control over when this occurs and which group they join.

We will build on pilot research in our group on orangutans and gorillas housed in zoos, which has identified promising avenues for progress in addressing this problem. We have integrated research on fostering resilience in humans and other non-human animal species and used it to design interventions to build their resilience. In this project we aim to develop and test these techniques on great apes, as well as investigating how management techniques can be altered to provide apes with a sense of agency. As a result we hope to develop techniques which will build resilience, improving the welfare and conservation outcomes for great apes in zoos, sanctuaries and rehabilitation centres.

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Deadline for applications: January 10, 2024

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PhD project: Encouraging natural behavioural ecology in zoo and sanctuary housed orangutans (University of Birmingham)

The Enclosure Design & Husbandry Tool (EDHT) is an interactive web-based application that translates research on wild apes into a format that captive settings can use to encourage wild-type behaviours in their apes. It compares behavioural-ecology data from captive individuals to data for wild individuals and recommends enclosure and husbandry modifications to elicit missing or under-represented wild-type behaviours. It focusses on replicating the mechanical challenges apes experience in the wild to create enclosures that behave naturally, rather than ones that look natural to visitors.

This studentship will focus on orangutans because they are difficult to care for in captivity (due to their large size, advanced cognitive abilities and their complex natural habitat), and because they are part of an active programme of rehabilitation and release back into the wild by sanctuaries in Indonesia and Malaysia. The student will apply the EDT to key aspects of welfare and rehabilitation at UK zoos and our partner sanctuaries in Indonesia. This studentship is thus a fantastic opportunity to make a lasting difference to the quality of life and conservation value of captive orangutans in zoos and in our partner sanctuaries in Asia.

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Deadline for applications: January 10, 2024

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PhD project: Application of artificial intelligence in the monitoring of zoo animal welfare (Notthingham Trent University)

The aim of the proposed interdisciplinary PhD project is to combine state-of-the-art artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to perform captive animal behaviour analysis from live image stream and integrate this information with physiological data to create individual animals’ physical and mental health profile over time and detect any abnormal behavioural and physiological parameter that can indicate issues with animals’ physical and mental health. The project will be conducted on the captive colony of chimpanzees housed at Twycross zoo and will involve training the machine to: (a) individually identify the chimpanzees, (b) recognize animals’ behaviour (e.g., food intake, resting), (c) assess animals level of stress and (d) integrate this information with physiological data (e.g., heart rate, body score). The ultimate goal is to develop an innovative technology that can help keepers and researchers to constantly and automatically monitor captive animals’ welfare and immediately detect any issue that may require immediate intervention.

The ideal candidate should have a background in computer science or bioengineering with interest in the field of animal behaviour and welfare. They should be reliable, patient, enthusiastic, committed to scientific research, and able to work both as part of a team and individually.

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Deadline for applications: January 12, 2024

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PhD project: Can synchrony alleviate outgroup bias? A developmental-comparative approach (Notthingham Trent University)

Outgroup bias, or the tendency to hold negative attitudes towards people who we perceive to be outside of our social group, can occur on the basis of ethnicity, gender, religion, or even shared interests.  (...) This Ph.D. project aims to examine how outgroup bias develops in human infants and children, and whether synchronous movement can be employed to counteract potentially negative effects of outgroup bias. Furthermore, this project will investigate the evolutionary origin of outgroup bias by examining the mechanisms and potential reversal of outgroup bias in non-human primates. Some of humans’ closest evolutionary cousins live in fission-fusion societies, thus providing an ideal opportunity to examine how group membership can change non-human primates’ social perception of each other. For this project, you will develop experimental paradigms for use with remote eye tracking technology to measure and manipulate outgroup bias in human infants and children as well as non-human primates. Data will be collected at Twycross Zoo (UK), which houses bonobos and chimpanzees, and at the University of Miami (USA) Social Cognition Lab, which examines social-cognitive development in human infants and children.

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Deadline for applications: January 12, 2024

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