Education Grant – Alastair – DMZAA Update 2

The Jim Cronin Memorial Fund Education Grant is awarded to experienced primate keepers who would like to further their education for the benefit of the primates in captivity. Last year the charity awarded Alastair Bigger an Educational Grant to complete the DMZAA (Diploma in Management of Zoo and Aquarium Animals) course at Sparsholt College. Alastair has prepared this report to keep us all updated on his progress.

Alastair said, “I have now completed the first year of my Diploma in the Management of Zoo and Aquarium Animals, and I am currently preparing for my second and final year.

Since my last report I have completed four more modules. Transport Records and Health, which involved gaining a baseline understanding of veterinary practices and the treatment of various common issues in the zoo industry. The nutrition module, in which I needed to examine primate diets and for this I chose to focus on Red-bellied Tamarins. For the Horticulture module I, I chose to focus on the Squirrel monkey enclosure at Monkey World as my case study, which involved examining the benefits of specific plants and their placement and finally for the Ethics and Welfare module I looked closely at the ethical procedures used in zoos and discussed various scenarios that could compromise an animal’s welfare.

Throughout my studies, I have continued to develop my Portfolio, gathering evidence of the work that we do at Monkey World, including the creation of new enrichment and operant conditioning techniques to enrich our animals lives and better prepare them for routine procedures such as their annual flu vaccinations each year.

The second year of the course allows me to choose my modules and focus on my key interests as well as those that could help me professionally. The only compulsory module is Training & Enrichment, something I am really excited to begin – as both are a huge part of my daily work at the park, ensuring that we are always maintaining the highest standards of primate welfare. In addition to this module, I have also chosen the Primate module, as well as Small Mammals, Snakes & Lizards, Chelonians (Turtles and Tortoises) & Crocodiles.

Looking forward to March, it’s going to be a busy time as I will be completing my final exams on the subjects covered in my first year of the DMZAA and continuing work on my Portfolio. In my first year of the course, I performed a small study on the behaviour of Mikado, a Golden-cheeked gibbon at Monkey World by using a Go Pro to record him at various points throughout the day over the course of a month. The key role of a keeper is to maintain a high standard of care for their animals and to ensure that their welfare is not compromised. This involves gaining a deeper understanding of their behaviour, what may cause them stress and what may help them relax. Many of the animals at Monkey World, have been rescued from horrendous situations and sometimes they have behavioural issues that manifest as abnormal behaviours which require specialist care. Through observations and study, we can observe their behaviour, discover their needs and ultimately improve their care. My research project in my second year will possibly be a continuation of my first year’s project in greater detail or, as Monkey World cares for so many fascinating and rare primates it may be interesting to examine them more. For example, Bengal Slow Loris are relatively understudied in captivity and could be an interesting subject of my project.

I am very excited about the second year and finishing the DMZAA. The first year proved incredibly engaging and helpful for my career, giving me a greater understanding of the zoo industry as a whole and the processes needed to run a collection. I would once again like to thank the Jim Cronin Memorial Fund for helping me achieve my goals and complete this course. I have thoroughly enjoyed it so far and look forward to sharing more of my work with you in the future.”