Meet our team 11/08/2016

Meet Our Animal Behaviour & Welfare Scientist

Our behaviour and welfare scientist, Dr Lisa Holmes, works closely with our animal curators to design and supervise behavioural projects with zoo staff, interns and students from BSc to PhD level.

Lisa started working at the zoo in 2013 as scientific assistant following her PhD in animal behaviour and physiology at the University of Liverpool. In 2015, she started her new role as our behaviour and welfare scientist.

Below she tells us more about her job and how she came to work at Chester Zoo:

My typical week involves meeting with the animal curators and teams, research students and fellow scientists here at the zoo.

All of the behavioural projects I work on have been carefully designed to answer questions asked by the animal staff. At any one time I can be working on a dozen or more behavioural projects involving a range of animal species from mammals to invertebrates. All of the data we collect needs to be analysed and fed back to the animal teams as soon as possible so I need to be organised to ensure each project is kept on track.

I provide training to students and staff so they can conduct behavioural research, teaching the different methods of behaviour observations, analysis of data and writing up results for presentations and formal reports.

I also provide guest lectures/workshops for a number of universities in the area so I continually update the content with new case studies from the zoo and read new scientific papers to keep up to date with new research.

If you fancy a career in animal behaviour research, firstly you should have a passion for animals and be fascinated by their behaviour; it takes a lot of dedication to observe animals in challenging weather conditions for many hours!

Tapir enrichment at Chester Zoo
Malayan tapir at Chester Zoo

There are a number of undergraduate and Master’s level degree programmes specialising in animal behaviour to help students develop the skills needed to conduct research. Many people also go on to gain PhD’s to develop behaviour specialisms and interests. Ideally you need to gain as much experience as you can, so go out and watch local wildlife, volunteer at animal sanctuaries or local wildlife trusts and develop your research skills through further and/or higher education courses.

I had a slightly unconventional route into my career as I originally worked as an office and finance manager in a secondary school. Growing up I always wanted to work at Chester Zoo and visited every year, wondering what it would be like to work here. Over a decade ago I decided to give up my job and go to university to study animal science and that’s when I discovered my love for research.

I observed the behaviour of Siamese fighting fish for my dissertation and gained experience of working with farm animals and exotic pet species. My PhD focused on the behavioural and physiological effects of competition in groups of wild house mice, which are the perfect model species for the cooperative species we house in the zoo such as meerkats, African painted dogs and lions.

Just as I completed my PhD I saw a job in the science team at Chester Zoo and applied for it thinking that I wouldn’t stand a chance against the many candidates that surely would apply. I think I was very lucky to get the role and now I’m doing my dream job at the zoo I loved as a little girl.

You can find out more about our research into animal behaviour here.

More like this...

Visit our Act for Wildlife website for more blogs like this about the work we do to help save endangered animals in the UK and around the world.

Act for Wildlife is a wildlife conservation campaign led by Chester Zoo where 100% of your donations are spent on our conservation projects around the world, to make a very real difference to conservation in the wild.

Visit our Act for Wildlife site