Behavioural Studies Unit (BSU) - Case Studies and Current Projects

Case Studies

Behavioural Monitoring of the Elephant Herd at Taronga

 Intensive monitoring of pre- and post-birth behaviour of the pregnant females as well as all other females in the herd has been a primary focus in 2009 and 2010. Volunteers are trained intensively to provide information on the birth and well-being of our elephants. Following each birth, the herd has been monitored continuously to better understand the interactions within a group of different aged elephants. This is particularly interesting as the original herd from Thailand were not related, and the assimilation of these cows into a functioning herd has important implications for rehabilitation and elephant well-being.

Animal Movements

 Taronga Zoo has changed dramatically over the last 10 years and many animals have moved to new accommodation. The BSU team works hard to document animal behaviour before and after each move to determine their responses and ensure the animals’ needs are met. For example, we continue year-round analysis of the Leopard Seal behaviour in the new, larger pool in relation to ambient and water temperature, and the onset of breeding season.

The Efficacy of Enrichment

 BSU scientists need to design the right enrichment and work with keepers to determine the right timing and method of introduction. The BSU’s goal is for the animals to experience the widest range of natural behaviours possible, and if the selected enrichment does not achieve the set goal then the type, timing or placement is changed.

Current Projects

Light Detection by Monotremes

There is very little known about the activity of monotremes (platypus and echidnas) when they enter their burrows. All attempts to capture this on video have shown that the behaviour of the animal changes to avoid the camera and lights. We are studying the platypus’s response to different wavelengths and intensity of infra-red light to test whether there is a combination that is not detectable by the monotremes, and will therefore not disturb them.

Raptor Activity in a Free Flight Show

A project is under way to investigate the activity of birds of prey that take part in the Taronga Free Flight Bird Show, compared with birds housed in an alternate facility and free-ranging birds of the same or similar species.

Gorilla Use of Exhibit Space

Gorillas are highly social primates and therefore sensitive to facial expressions, noise and social cues of people nearby. This study examines the response of the gorilla group to numbers and noise level of visitors near the gorilla exhibit, and the impact of enrichment.

Researcher Profiles

Taronga and Taronga Western Plains Zoos have attracted some of the best scientific minds in the world. Working together they are making a positive difference for wildlife.

Taronga Zoo, Dr Vicky Melfi

Phone: 
+61 2 9978 4615

Taronga Zoo, Vera Nedved

Phone: 
+61 2 9978 4615