Scientists use a variety of techniques to study the health and welfare of animals at the zoo. For example, a research project may begin with scientists monitoring the animal’s behavior. Animal behavior is often the most immediate and reliable indicator of animal health and welfare. Animals exhibiting natural behaviors are essential for the Zoo to fulfill its important mission of increasing knowledge and appreciation of wildlife among visitors. To study the animal’s behavior, scientists may monitor behaviors the animals are performing, their activity levels, how often and what type of foods they are consuming, how they interact with other animals in their group, or where they spend time in their exhibit, just to name a few examples.
In addition to animal behavior, scientists at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo also study hormones to learn more about the health and welfare of animals. Hormones are chemicals released in the blood that signal changes in other parts of the body. Studying hormones is important as they often underlie changes in behavior and a hormonal change may be evident before a behavioral change is observed. Hormones can be measured directly from the blood as well as from the animal’s waste products such as urine and feces. Staff scientists at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo measure hormones in the Zoo’s Wildlife Endocrinology Laboratory. Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is proud to be one of the few zoos in the country with an endocrinology lab capable of measuring hormones to assess the health and welfare of animals at the zoo.
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo also has a strong epidemiology program. Epidemiology research at the Zoo focuses on factors that affect the health and well-being of captive and free-ranging wildlife populations. To accomplish this, staff scientists combine measures of the animal’s behavior with chemical measures such as hormones. Some epidemiology projects we have been involved in include: understanding and controlling diabetes in zoo animals, monitoring the health of Metroparks deer herds, monitoring for avian influenza, or investigating reproductive challenges in elephants.
If you are a student wanting to learn more about these techniques, please see our Information for Undergraduate and Graduate Students page to read about volunteer opportunities and our Zoo Science and Management course.