Twycross Zoo - Follow Your Heart

Opening Times: 10am - 5pm

Charity Heart

Twycross Zoo is a registered charity (number 501841) which exists to support conservation, education and research.

Researcher Profiles

Conducting Research At Twycross Zoo

Sophie Moittié, LV, MRCVS, DVetMed Postgraduate Student - Twycross Zoo and School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, The University of Nottingham, UK

Sophie Moittié qualified as a veterinary surgeon in 2009, and she is now pursuing a 4-year postgraduate program with the University of Nottingham and Twycross Zoo.

This program combines general clinical work at the zoo as part of the vet team and a research project in great ape cardiac diseases. She is also a resident of the European College of Zoological Medicine. Sophie is looking into the causes and mechanisms of heart diseases in gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans. She collects data and samples from Twycross great apes when they get a “health-check” and also receives samples from other zoos in Europe. Her project includes cardiac pathology, biomarker discovery and nutrient analysis.

Lauren Lansdowne, PhD Student - Department of Genetics, University of Leicester, UK

What is your research about?

My research is investigating genetic markers in gibbons. There are two goals for my project: the first is to establish a panel of markers which can be used to determine the level of genetic variation in the gibbon population at Twycross Zoo, and to guide future decisions regarding suitable breeding pairs; the second is to identify markers which can confirm the species of an individual gibbon, and indicate if an individual may have mixed-species ancestry.

What has your data collection included here at Twycross Zoo?

To achieve these goals I am using >40 DNA samples from gibbons at Twycross Zoo. I have so far completed a 4 week placement at Twycross, and will do 2 more placements of 4 weeks. My work has included collecting behavioural data of zebras and chimpanzees, updating breeding management information, and collating research conducted by or at Twycross Zoo.

Damien Neadle, PhD Psychology Student - University of Birmingham, UK

What is your research project about?

I specialise in great ape tool use and collect experimental data from Twycross Zoo. Twycross Zoo is a natural home for my data collection because they are the only UK zoo with all four types of great ape. My experiments usually consist of giving apes a task, loosely based on wild behaviours to determine whether social learning in any form is necessary for the emergence of these behaviours. My research is geared towards testing the zone of latent solutions hypothesis (Tennie et al., 2009), which predicts that some (if not all) great ape behaviours can be explained through individual learning because of environmental and social cues.

What has your data collection included at Twycross Zoo?

My data collection at Twycross Zoo is generally experimental, and follows the Latent Solutions paradigm, where we present captive individuals with the sorts of tasks that their wild counterparts face. We then observe to see whether the solutions that they innovate match those expressed in the wild.

Megan Clifford, MSc Endangered Species Recovery And Conservation Student - Nottingham Trent University, UK

What is your research project about?

I am researching the conservation impacts of animal ambassadors in zoos. I have chosen the Humboldt penguins as the ‘ambassador animal’ as they are a well loved zoo animal. Twycross Zoo offers a viewing of the penguins, a talk and feed time for visitors and a bookable penguin encounter – so different visitors will have different interactions with the penguins. My study aims to see how these animals impact the conservation views and messages that visitors take home with them depending on the type of the experience they have had with the penguins!

What has your data collection included at Twycross Zoo?

My data collection has involved conducting questionnaire-based interviews with visitors at the zoo. I have been interviewing visitors as they enter the zoo and again as they exit to see what messages they are taking home with them after their day out.

Callum Spencer MSc Postgraduate Student Studying Molecular Genetics - University of Leicester, UK

What is your research project about?

Identifying different ape species, including father-son relationships from faecal samples alone. The aim of my project is to establish a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) multiplex that would be capable of analysing a collection of specific Y-chromosomal short tandem repeats (Y-STRs) in chimpanzees and bonobos. Y-STRs are repeating units of DNA between 2 and 6 base pairs long, and the number of these repeats varies between individuals of the same species, with a higher degree of variability being exhibited between different species or subspecies. By using a PCR multiplex, which is capable of simultaneously analysing many Y-STR loci in a single reaction, the variability of each Y-STR can be determined, and can used to facilitate the differentiation of species and subspecies, as well as the identification of father-son relationships within chimpanzee and bonobo populations.

What has your data collection included here at Twycross Zoo?

Both blood and faecal samples were obtained from the Twycross Zoo’s bio-bank for chimpanzee and bonobo samples. Testing the PCR multiplex on DNA extracted from the faecal samples will demonstrate the robustness of this technique for in-field applications, thus supporting conservation efforts relating to wild chimpanzee and bonobo populations.

Luisa Dutra, PhD Life Sciences Student - University of Salford, UK

What is your research project about?

I have been working with Professor Robert Young and Animal Behaviour since my undergraduate years, back in Brazil. When I was finishing my masters degree Robert suggested that I developed my PhD in Environmental and Life Sciences at University of Salford, UK. My PhD comprises aspects of animal welfare, ageing and stress in different canids, from pet dogs to wild species housed in zoos. Nowadays animal welfare is a widespread concern and assessing individuals’ wellbeing is extensively discussed. Progress in improving animal welfare is currently limited by the lack of objective methods for assessing lifetime experience. Animal welfare is assumed to be influenced by the cumulative effects of the positive and negative events experienced by an individual. Looking older than your real (chronological) age is an indicator of a stressful life as you are aging biologically faster than you should be. In humans looking old for your age, which can be assessed using facial photographs (perceived age) is associated with illness and death. A good measure of cumulative experience needs to be validated for non-human animals. My PhD study aims to investigate stress parameters and the association of these factors with a dog’s perceived age from a photograph. In this picture I was visiting the Wolf Science Centre in Austria.


What has your data collection included here at Twycross Zoo?

I have collected data from the eight bush-dogs housed at Twycross Zoo, which included a photo and a saliva swab sample. Once we have validated perceived age as a welfare measure, zoo breeding and other conservation programs can benefit from this measurement. Having animal welfare assessed by photographs can reduce the issues with direct methods, e.g. saliva swabs may be impossible in wild dogs, and it will allow age/stress monitoring of animals in the wild through the use of cameras.