Meet Toby Scriven: Elephant Industrial Placement Student
Toby is studying Wildlife Conservation at the University of Kent and came to the zoo to work on the elephants section, as he knew that Chester Zoo was particularly respected in terms of managing the species. Now that his placement year is reaching an end, he reflects on the time he spent at the zoo.
Please, could you tell us a bit more about your project at Chester Zoo?
“I was doing a before and after comparison study of behaviour to see if there were any changes in our bull elephant’s behaviour after we implemented different strategies such as giving him access to outdoor areas, access to the females and extra feeding enrichment.
"The elephant team has CCTV camera programme so I was looking at a six-hour period starting at 2 am and stopping at 8 am. I had to go through six hours of data in an hour and a half and I did two days one week and three days the other week, so I had five days’ worth of data every fortnight.
"My data showed that when the baby elephant was born, the male’s behaviour changed. He was restless through the night from the week before the baby was born until a week after the birth. This may have been linked to hormonal activities of the females as the male could see and smell what was going on from his sleeping area.
"My research also showed that changing access areas for the male had a really good effect on his behaviour, as we’re seeing more investigation and foraging.”
What did a typical day as an Elephant Industrial Placement Student looked like?
“I didn’t have any zookeeping experience before coming here, but the team welcomed me and taught me what to do. In the morning, I was carrying out tasks such as preparing the meds for the elephants with arthritis, and then I was cleaning the outside paddock. I also needed to run poo samples to the science lab to run some test on progesterone levels.
"I got to observe the team target training the elephants in the morning and after the break. We would clean up the inside paddock and then after lunch clean the outside paddock again. So it was a lot of cleaning, but I got to watch the target training in the morning, so it was a nice mix!”
What was the biggest challenge you encountered during your research?
"Unfortunately, I had some technical issues with the extra feeding enrichment and had to drop that part of my project after only three weeks so that was challenging. It’s also been tough to stay on top of my deadlines whilst working on section."
What are you taking away from your year at Chester Zoo?
"Taking that step out into the working world and seeing what it is like, day in day out, has been great. Seeing what the standard is for being a zookeeper was really interesting, as I hadn’t done any zookeeping before. After a year of working at Chester Zoo, I now know what level you have to be at to make it as a zookeeper."
What is your best memory from this year at Chester Zoo?
"Definitely when I went to the BIAZA Research Conference. I was presenting a poster and I won an award for it!
"You go to this conference and then suddenly you are surrounded by people that are celebrities within the sector, it was an incredible experience."