What are we thankful for?

Hi there, it’s Catherine again. Last time you heard from me, we were talking about giraffe activity and seeing if it changes in the summer versus the winter. Not to leave you in suspense, but we are still going through results and hope to get that to you soon! I’m actually going to switch gears and get into the holiday spirt, because Thanksgiving is around the corner, and I’m feeling pretty thankful. 

What are we thankful for?
Working for the Animal Welfare Research Department, there’s a lot to be thankful for. In the past two and half years, we have been involved in countless projects (more than our department can write blogs about!) and had a lot of successes. So to keep with the theme, I’m going to go around the table and talk about some of these successes, why we are thankful for them, and provide insight to what our department does to help provide the highest levels of care for the animals at Brookfield Zoo. 


Behavioral Monitoring Project
If you have visited the zoo lately, you have probably seen some employees carrying clipboards and standing in front of exhibits watching the animals. Although it looks like a fairly simple task, these individuals are helping with one of the larger-scale projects in our department. The behavioral monitoring project involves collecting behavioral data on all the animals at the zoo (yes, I said all!) in order to have a large database of information to identify best practices or individuals that might need additional attention. Now, with Brookfield Zoo’s collection comprising of more than 3,500 animals representing about 427 species, that’s a lot of monitoring to do! So we have divided our massive and diverse collection to manageable taxonomic groups. We are currently collecting information on carnivores, which is already a feat of its own – about 70 animals and 25 different species. This is one of the projects I am proud to be involved in, and thankful that we are incorporating this practice to ensure that each individual in our collection is thriving.

C.E.L.O. Program
Luckily with the behavioral monitoring project, we have lots of help due to the internship program. Brookfield Zoo’s internships are called College Experiential Learning Opportunities (C.E.L.O.) because of the unique and hands-on experiences that Brookfield Zoo provides. In the Animal Welfare Research Department, we have had 6 interns and 3 externs since 2015 who have not only helped collect behavioral data for the monitoring project, but also have been involved in individual projects that hope to give them real and relevant experience in a scientific setting. We are thankful to help provide this opportunity and hope the experiences allow these individuals to grow as scientists.


Over the past two and half years, we have been very fortunate to be involved with multiple projects that allow collaboration with other conservation institutions around the nation. From working with universities to measure detailed movement of dolphins to partnering with 16 AZA-accredited zoos to monitor and improve chimp welfare, we are hoping to increase our capacity to implement high levels of animal welfare at zoological facilities around the world. We are incredibly thankful to have these partnerships so that our animal welfare research program can be recognized and grow within both zoological and scientific communities. 

Individuals (Both Human and Animal!)
I believe one of the greatest successes is to go to work with a team with diverse strengths, working for a society that believes in using innovative techniques to address animal welfare questions. In the past couple of years, our team has grown to one senior director, one animal welfare biologist, one endocrinology lab manager, one research assistant, three postdoctoral research fellows, and several volunteers who we are exceedingly thankful for. Also, our team would not function without the support of other departments at the zoo: animal care and veterinary staff, the staff at Creative Services for their assistance in creating posters for conferences, the staff in Development for their amazing fundraising, and to the Education and Interpretive staff for sharing knowledge with zoo guests about the great things we do.

Trust us, it takes a village to make our research projects possible! But they are possible because of these individuals. 

Well, those are some of the things that I am thankful for, and hope that got everyone in the holiday spirit. If you want to read more about our team, please visit the Animal Welfare Research section on the CZS website!  
-Catherine Razal
Animal Behavior Research Assistant

Posted: 11/8/2016 9:48:19 AM by Bryan Todd Oakley

CZS & Brookfield Zoo

Since the opening of Brookfield Zoo in 1934, the Chicago Zoological Society has had an international reputation for taking a cutting-edge role in animal care and conservation of the natural world. Learn more about the animals, people, and research that make up CZS here at our blog.


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