16 Feb 2023

“We’re always looking for the best ways to care for our animals here at the zoo. That’s why our Behaviour and Wellbeing scientists work closely with Animal Curators and Keepers to closely watch the behaviours of all our animals.”

We carefully watch them day and night to see what they’re up to, how they’re using their habitats, and even which resources and social partners they prefer.

Dr Lisa Holmes, our Lead Conservation Scientist shares everything you need to know about Behaviour and Welfare Science at the zoo.

We formally record animal behaviour over set time-periods, either in person or by reviewing video recordings, and our keepers also informally note animal behaviours during their daily routines.

By combining these behavioural observations with other important information that we have, such as their health, diet, and physiology, we can build a fantastic picture of our animals’ wellbeing, and we can then use this to help inform management decisions and make sure they’re as happy as possible.

We also work with BIAZA (British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums) and EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) to help produce and compile resources on animal behaviour to help other zoos assess animal wellbeing.

Lisa Holmes
Dr Lisa Holmes

When designing new habitats for animals, it’s important to consider their natural behaviours and provide features and resources that meet their needs. By recording behaviour and space use before and after a move, we can help to measure success and inform any potential modifications that would further enhance their habitats in zoos.

Some of our research can be long-term, for example when we’re planning to move animals into new custom-designed habitats like Islands. Between 2015 and 2017, we collected almost 1,000 hours of behavioural data for species that moved to new habitats in Islands, including on our sun bears.

Our sun bears spent lots of time exploring their new habitat, and there were a lot more opportunities for our visitors to see this beautiful species thanks to the improved visibility of this new area. In fact, the move was so successful that in 2018 they produced their very first cub, which is a wonderful success story as these were the first pair of sun bears to have bred in the entire UK!

Sun bear cub in 2018
Sun bear cub Kyra, with mum Milli in 2018

“Using our remote cameras, I’ve seen some of the rarest species being born and carefully reared by their parents and learned so much from watching social interactions between animals.”

I’ve been working at Chester Zoo for 10 years, and in that time, I’ve had the privilege to observe, and work closely with, a wide range of endangered species.

While our observations lack the soothing narrative of David Attenborough, there is something very special about witnessing key moments in an animal’s life or learning something new about a species that may help to protect them in the wild. So next time you visit, keep an eye out for all the exciting animal behaviours here at the zoo!


Become a scientist for the day! Grab your science journal and discover our five WONDERLABS to learn loads about the incredible science we do to prevent extinction!

18 February – 5 March