Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and senior. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here!
Matt Anderson, the Director of the research Behavorial Biology Division, and Jennifer Tobey, Research Coordinator for the same division were both very interesting to listen to. We learned a lot about the different ways an animal’s behavior can be observed and the different ways to manipulate it in order to help the animal.
Dr. Anderson has a very interesting job learning about the different behaviors of elephants. He works in both Botswana and at the Beckman Center here in San Diego. A few projects that Dr. Anderson is working on are mother-infant interactions, juvenile interactions, and herd communication. This is necessary information to help different herds in Botswana because of the main issue of human and elephant conflict. These animals are known to invade and destroy the crop fields of African farmers, leaving them without their products. How Dr. Anderson helps with this is by observing the different actions taken by the different calls an elephant may make, whether it be a call that is attractive to the animal or not and makes them get away from the source of the call. This is achieved through GPS collars that are equipped with microphones to both track their positions via satellites and record any calls they make. This helps with the problem of farmers having their crops trampled since megaphones can now be placed in different fields to playback calls that are unattractive to the elephants and cause them to walk away from the crops. Another solution that Dr. Anderson has come up with is making fences out of chilies strung together since the oils burn the end of the elephant’s trunk and repels it.
Another behavioral biologist we talked to was Jennifer Tobey. During high school, Mrs. Tobey volunteered at a natural history museum and then later got a job cleaning out animal cages. She now has been working at the Beckman Center for 15 years. In both the field and at the Zoo, Mrs. Tobey watches the behaviors of koalas in order to choose the best way for them to breed. One way of accomplishing this is Mrs. Tobey took daily samples and analyzed spikes in the chemical composition of males’ scent glands during the breeding season. She then had a synthetic scent made which included 7 out of the 37 chemicals overall to see how females would react to it and see if it could be used for induced breeding during the right season. Another form of observation that Mrs. Tobey did was she listened to the bellows a male koala made during the fall and spring and noticed a pattern. In the spring the number of calls made, outnumbered those made in the fall, but in the fall, the duration of the bellows were longer than those made in the spring. Mrs. Tobey came to the conclusion that this was due to finding a mate, since in the spring many koalas are looking and calling for mates, their calls need to be short to get the message out, but in the fall, not many koalas are looking, so their calls can be longer.
It was very interesting learning about the different jobs that Dr. Anderson and Mrs. Tobey have. It was also fun to practice using the different equipment that Mrs. Tobey would use out in the field. It was an overall great learning experience and I can’t wait to learn more about behavioral biology!
Hayden, Careers Team
Fall 2012, week four