In November 2016, The Brandywine Zoo hosted 200 third through fifth graders, from ten different elementary schools located in the West Chester Area School District in Pennsylvania. This group of intelligent students previously completed a natural animal history project and worksheet in their classroom. This worksheet explored the natural habitat, diet, behaviors, and social structures of the animals at the Brandywine Zoo, including the ducks, Bald eagles, River otters, Greater Sandhill crane, Pygmy goats, Rhea, Amur tiger, bobcat, Andean condors, and the Program Animal Collection.
By the time the students arrived, they were already experts in ethology, more commonly known as animal behavior. They jumped into observing, recording, and analyzing the animals’ behaviors during the Brandywine Zoo’s Animal Behavior STEM Zoo School Program. The young scientists spent an hour in the Zoo’s classroom learning about the importance of studying animal behavior in a zoo setting, and different methods of observing and recording the behaviors. Students did several ethograms for several animals during the program. An ethogram is a simple chart designed to record behaviors in a quick and organized manner. Students categorized the behaviors into four groups; locomotion, maintenance, social and manipulation, or focus. They recorded their observations once every 30 seconds for 10 minutes. By the end of the week, the class had almost 400 sets of data in pie charts and bar graphs to analyze.
The students wanted to encourage the animals’ natural behavior at the Zoo, so with help of the keeper staff, the classes made dozens of enrichment items for the animals! Keepers use animal enrichment to encourage natural behavior from the animals under their care. Enrichment helps satisfy both the physical and psychological needs of animals by keeping them active and providing a stimulating life. Enrichment can come in many forms: exhibit design, training, sensory stimulation, creating social groupings and puzzle feeders. The ferrets had fun running through and on top of a wooden ramp while Chelsea (macaw) enjoyed ripping apart a cardboard tub ladder designed and constructed by the students! The Brandywine Zoo gives a special THANK YOU to Susan Farrelly, Mrs. Bushnell and all the teachers, parents, and students of the elementary schools of the West Chester Area!