Education Grant – Alastair – DMZAA Final Update

One of the Charity’s main goals and aims has always been furthering education in primate welfare and conservation. As such we provide grants and funding to cover relevant courses, lectures, and conferences. We are pleased to update you on Educational grant recipient Alastair Bigger has successfully completed and passed his  DMZAA course with Distinction!

Alastair says “Since my last update over a year ago, I am proud to say I have completed the DMZAA with Distinction. With the fantastic advice of my tutor at Sparsholt College and the ever present support of the Jim Cronin Memorial Fund I handed in the final draft of my research project in October.

Before that though I had to navigate the second year of the course. Fortunately for me, I was able to choose my own modules, meaning that I could focus on the subjects that really interested me. I had completed the Primate Module earlier in the year, followed by a module on small mammals, ranging from rabbits to koalas. I also decided to study Chelonians (tortoises and turtles) and crocodilians as well as a module on snakes and lizards, purely because they have always fascinated me.

Working at Monkey World meant that I was able to draw on my own knowledge and experience as well as that of my colleagues, some of whom have been working with primates for decades, in order to complete the primate module. My other modules required that I contact other collections and keepers to gather information on how they cared for their animals, and Crocodiles of the World were incredibly helpful, providing me plenty of information for my reptile based modules.

Having completed the modules, I then had to focus on the portfolio, collating videos, images and reports proving the skills I have gained as a zookeeper. This ranged from record keeping, delivering supplements and medication, and enrichment, to the basics of cleaning an enclosure and safe working practices.

The final part of the course proved the most challenging but was also the most enjoyable. The research project. This began with choosing my subject, Bengal slow loris (Nycticebus bengalensis), and determining where there were gaps in the literature that could be filled by my study. Very little has been written in peer reviewed studies about this cryptic and secretive species and the vast majority had focussed on conserving the wild individuals, or focussed on their anatomy and physiology. This in itself is interesting, as they are venomous, but I felt that there was a gap in our knowledge of their behaviour in captivity. At Monkey World we have a fascinating set up, with a pair of females in one enclosure, and a mixed sex group of two females and one male in another enclosure. I therefore began a study to establish activity budgets for our animals, and the set up would allow an interesting comparison of the group dynamics. This involved gathering observational data, and recording the behaviours of the animals every minute. There were a few difficulties posed by this, as even in captivity, the animals could be hard to locate in the dark and as their name suggests, slow loris can move very slowly and appear to do very little. I was of course observing them in the dark and the quiet, so the greatest challenge was to remain focused.

I came to the conclusion that our loris exhibit mostly normal loris behaviour with the occasional abnormal behaviour, a valuable insight for improving their welfare and managing the groups. The data also suggested that the loris are more gregarious and active when housed in mixed sex groups. However, much more data is needed to draw concrete conclusions, and I intend to continue the study in the future, with an eye to publishing the results.

I began the DMZAA with the goal of performing well academically and expanding my horizons, hoping the course would help me develop my career prospects. It has been everything I expected and more.

I would therefore like to extend my sincerest gratitude to the Jim Cronin Memorial Fund, without which none of this would have been possible, I am incredibly grateful for their support. Thank you.”