09 01/09/2017

Meet Elinor Bridges: Conservation Social Science Intern

Elinor is studying a degree titled Biology with Science and Society at the University of Manchester. Interested in social science, she decided to come to Chester Zoo to do her placement year where she looked at visitor engagement in our Islands area.

Elinor conducting observations in the gharials area.
Elinor’s project is looking at Islands - which we opened two years ago and which highlights endangered species through theming. This means that, rather than having explicit information to explain the threats that species are facing, Islands is full of immersive props designed to remind visitors of issues such as poaching.

Her goal is to assess visitor engagement levels at different areas in Islands, including the gharials, the cassowaries, the hornbills, the tigers and the Sulawesi macaques. Analysing dwell times, demographics and visitors’ comments, Elinor was able to investigate different forms of engagement and to explore the relationship between dwell times and visitors’ conversations.

Now that her placement year is reaching an end, we asked Elinor to reflect on her year at Chester Zoo.

Please could you tell us a bit more about your project?

“My project is looking at the new Islands area which opened two years ago. I am observing visitors as they pass through and look at their behaviour around different zoo habitats. That includes the kind of things they talk about when they are near the habitat, the habitat they stop by and the time they spend there. 

“So far I’ve found that when people are chatting to each other they talk more about surface level information about the habitat such as the animal’s name, what it looks like and where it’s located. They talk less about the deeper topics such as natural habitat and conservation.


“I expected people to spend the longest time and to talk the most about mammals but actually they talked more about surface level information within the gharial area. The design for the gharial area is away from the path which means that visitors have to come off the main path to look at it so people are not concerned about getting in the way of other visitors. They know they have time to stand still and observe.

“The design of the tank for viewing the gharials plays a role as well. The water line comes up to about eye height so if the gharials are underwater, visitors have to crouch down to be able to see them. My results are suggesting that once people have made the effort to sit down on the floor they don’t want to get up and leave straight away, they want to take their time to have a look at it.”


The design of the gharials’ habitat encourages people to crouch down to see underwater. 

What was the biggest challenge you encountered during your research?

“My main challenge was probably that one of the species I wanted to collect data on was the cassowary and for a long time they were off-show and so I had to spend a lot of time collecting data on them in the past months.”

How is this year going to help you with your degree and future career?

“I feel the main thing I have taken from being here is that you can make decisions to change things that you don’t like! One of the main things that we try to bring across to people is that you can make small changes in your life that can help the environment, but that is applicable to every aspect of your life. You can make small changes that can make everything in your life better and it doesn’t really take long to make an actual difference!”

Elinor is recording information on her tablet such as the time visitors spend in front of specific animals. 

What is your best memory from this year at Chester Zoo?

“The BIAZA Research Conference that we went to in Edinburgh! The presentations were very interesting and it was really nice to spend some time with the rest of the team too. It was interesting as well to go somewhere and meet other people from outside of the zoo who are doing other work.”