10 Dec 2020

Chester Zoo uses science in many countries around the world to conserve species in their natural habitats, this is known as in-situ conservation and at the same time we work here at the zoo and this is known as ex-situ conservation. By combining in-situ and ex-situ techniques we work towards our ultimate goal of preventing extinction.

There are many scientific studies that can help us better understand the animals in our care here at the zoo and those we are trying to conserve in the field, four of these studies are researching environmental conditions, animal behaviour, hormones and genetics.

We’ve put together this guide to using some of our science learning resources for you to use with your class.

Step 1: Environmental Conditions

Our conservation activities both in the zoo and in the field, are focused on six regions across the globe, which represent some of the planet’s most biodiverse and highly threatened ecosystems. The scientists at Chester Zoo need to understand how a change in these environments can affect the species living within it, this often involves recording the wildlife in the wild before looking at the data back in the lab.

Have a look at how we go about recording wildlife…

Download out: How to Record Wildlife [VIDEO]

Once we have the data we can look at how different environmental factors can affect the number of species and apply it to the habitats at the zoo.  For example, in the Aquarium our aquarists have to test the water in the tanks every single day to make sure the chemistry of the water is at exactly the right balance for our aquatic species

The knowledge they are gaining from studying these species can then be applied back to those in the wild, this is particularly important when looking at coral reefs which are especially sensitive to changes in their environment.

To learn more about the environmental factors that affect aquatic species, watch our: Aquarium – Science at Chester Zoo [VIDEO]

Try our test to detect pH levels, download our:

Science Experiment – pH Science – Teacher’s Guide

Then for a test showing the effects of pH, take a look at our:

Science Experiment – Acid Egg Shells

Fancy having a go at maintaining your own aquarium?  Check out our collection of:

Science Aquarium Activities

Our reptile team at the zoo have the tricky job of making sure their habitats are warm enough, many of the species in their care are from tropical environments, so they need to come up with some nifty solutions to make them comfortable.

Looking into temperature?

Download our: UK Light and Heat for reptile [VIDEO]

Let’s see if you can design a perfect reptile habitat!

Download: Design your own Reptile Habitat – Heat and UV Light

Temperature can even affect the breeding of some species and in a world with drastically changing temperatures, what we learn here in the zoo can help us come up with solutions to help the same species but in the wild.

Learn about the critically endangered radiated tortoise and how they like to be toasty here 

Radiated Tortoise | Chester Zoo

Step 2: Recording Animal Behaviour

Animals act and communicate in numerous ways but we need to know what they are ‘saying’ to ensure that the animals in our care are happy and healthy.

Let’s see if you know what these chimpanzees are saying…

Download our: Chimp Facial Recognition Game

Monitoring animals in the wild has become easier than ever before with the development of new technology, such as camera traps and drones, however in the wild there will always be places where the animals go, where we can simply not follow or access and that is why studying animals in the zoo has it’s benefits.

Our keepers and researchers are constantly conducting cognitive studies and enrichment programs with the animals in their care, which provides an opportunity to learn and improve management techniques. It also grants us a better understanding of what these species require from their environment.

Download our: Animal Behaviour Collection

Watch here to learn how we monitor animal behaviour that live in our “Islands” habitats:

Why not study animal behaviour yourself?

Download our: Ethogram Activities 

Step 3: Endocrinology

Endocrinology is the study of hormones and can tell us a lot about our animals.  Studying the hormones of animals lets us know about how an animal is feeling or even if it’s pregnant. Through studying endocrinology we’re able to constantly assess our animals’ needs. We’re very lucky to have our very own endocrinology lab on site at Chester Zoo and we often get sent samples from all over the world!

With all this knowledge we can boost the number of successful pregnancies and contribute to the conservation of the species. In the zoo, our researchers can also diagnose pregnancy and predict when the animal will give birth, giving the animal teams the necessary time to make preparations for the mother and baby.

Watch how we use endocrinology at the zoo
Download our: Endocrinology [VIDEO] 

As well as using endocrinology in the zoo, we’ve also built a brand new endocrinology lab in Kenya so we can use this exciting science to observe wild animals.  Our conservation scholar, Nick Harvey, has been to Africa to find out more.

Watch:  How we use endocrinology in the field 

Why not use some maths and use endocrinology to see if this elephant is pregnant?

Download our: KS3 Massive Elephant Maths

Step 4: Genetics

The biodiversity of our planet is continuing to decline and many species are already extinct, while others are on the verge of becoming so. Species with small populations are at risk due to the lack of available genetic variability and as such many species now require human intervention to ensure their survival. Studying genetics in the zoo allows conservationists to reduce the risk of inbreeding and the loss of genetic diversity of the animals in their care and then look at which of those animals are best suited for reintroduction programmes.

Understanding genetics can be hard, let’s get back to basics.

Download: DNA Back to Basics

Take a look at our: Conservation Genetics Glossary

Once we understand the importance of genetics we can look into how we can use that in our breeding programmes. Conservation Breeding is an important part of the conservation work that Chester Zoo does. Working with partners across EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquariums), we’re all working towards a common goal of preserving genetic diversity of species in zoos through important conservation breeding programmes.

Take a look at our: Conservation Breeding Overview [VIDEO]

Conservation breeding can be quite a complicated matter, with lots of people and computer software involved!

If you’re curious about how we go about it, watch our: How are conservation breeding recommendations made? [VIDEO]

Think you’ve got the hang of it? Try answering one of our genetic exam questions.

Download our: Conservation Genetics Exam Questions Collection 

For more science fun, try our GIANT SWEETS experiment!

Time to experiment

Discover how we feed our zoo animals.

Check out our NUTRITION resources

Learn about zoo jobs

Career skills collection