Conservation Scholar & Primate Keeper
- Qualifications MPhil funded by Chester zoo
At the Zoo
I was born and grew up in South Africa and to be able to get into university, you needed the marks. I have never been an academic more a practical type of person. The reality of being able to go to university was a bit of a pipe dream for me, really. All I have ever wanted to do was work with animals and be able to try and protect their environment. I started at Chester Zoo as an intern in September 2007 and was very lucky to get a job on the Primate section in August 2008. I have worked with captive wildlife for over 14 years and I have collected knowledge in different animal behaviors and captive management along the way. During my time as a primate keeper at Chester Zoo for the last 11 years, I have been lucky enough to work with some of the world’s critically endangered primate species and been involved in breeding some critically endangered species. I have always had an inquisitive mind. So, I applied to do an MSc at Manchester Metropolitan University and to my amazement I got an unconditional offer! My project is to try and evaluate the impacts of chemical contraception in male Colombian black-faced spider monkeys. I have noticed in some of the primate species that I work with, that in some instances males on contraceptives become less aggressive or assertive. This can alter the group dynamics and adversely affect the welfare of the group and potentially their conservation breeding success. I developed an interest in the effects of contraception while helping with the EAZA Reproductive management group EAZA RMG), by collating data on contraceptive use for zoo animals worldwide. The world of research and endocrinology is a very new and exciting world for me, which I can’t wait to start. I know that I haven’t written any papers yet. But! Watch this space.
The aim of my research project is to investigate the potential effects of various contraceptive techniques on non-human primate behavior, especially the effects on social cohesion and male aggression. There is very little empirical evidence on the dosage needed to dampen the aggressive behavior and little is understood about the effects of chemical contraceptives on the behavior of male non-human primates. Temporary chemical contraceptives most widely used in males are Deslorelin and Leuprolide acetate, but large data gaps exist in the knowledge regarding the efficacy of chemical contraception and to determine whether behaviors are learnt or not (or if social management has an impact). I aim to assess the effectiveness of contraceptives in Colombian black-faced spider monkeys, both as a reproductive management tool, and in modulating aggression. My research project will investigate the effect of contraception on male aggression in zoo and wildlife rehabilitation center housed non-human primates in the UK, Europe and primate range countries.
Dr Veronica Cowl (Reproductive Biology Coordinator, Chester Zoo, EAZA)
Dr Caroline Bettridge (Biology and Conservation Ecology, Manchester Metropolitan University)