CCPA Summer Series 2018: Saint Louis Zoo

CCPA Summer Series 2018: Saint Louis Zoo

By Claire Burdick

Claire collecting data for the chimpanzee study (with a chimp named Beauty).

This summer I am a research intern in the Behavior Lab at the Saint Louis Zoo. A typical day for me involves collecting data from live and video observations and analyzing data from previous projects. For each study, all of the interns have to take a series of different reliability tests to make sure that we are all collecting data in a consistent way. I start each day by scoring video for a long-term project on mother-infant interactions in several antelope species. The purpose of this study is to learn more about how antelopes in captivity interact with their offspring and how different parenting styles might affect infant outcomes. Twice a day, I head out on grounds to help collect data on the current live observation projects. We are doing a study on the zoo’s new grizzly bears, Huckleberry and Finley, observing their general behavior to see how they are spending their time and how they are using their exhibit. We use a tablet to record what each bear is doing, how close they are to each other, and where each bear is in the exhibit every minute for an hour.


Claire collecting data for the primate study.

Some days I head to the zoo’s primate house with another intern to observe Coquerel’s sifaka, black-handed spider monkeys, and guereza colobus to collect baseline data of general behavior for a study on how noise affects their behavior. The third live study this summer is on the chimpanzees, and we observe the three males in the group because a new male was introduced this summer. We collected data during the introduction process and are continuing to observe to see how the group’s social dynamics may have changed after he was added to the group.


At the beginning of my internship, I also helped with a human health study looking at how going through a portion of the zoo affected people’s stress levels, measured by blood pressure and cortisol levels. It has been really valuable to get experience observing many different species, and it showed me how studies can differ based on the types of animals you are looking at and the research questions you are trying to answer in the study. When I am not out in the zoo grounds, I am back in the lab scoring

One of the grizzly bears in the study named Huckleberry.

antelope videos or analyzing data from a previous study on social behaviors of a group of Coquerel’s sifaka. Once a week during lunch, members of the research department give a talk about their area of research at the zoo so that we can learn more about research as a whole. Through these talks, I had the opportunity to learn more about endocrinology, reproduction and breeding, environmental enrichment, and statistical analysis. It was really nice to learn more about what the zoo does beyond the behavior lab. We also get to go on tours of the various departments of the zoo to see what goes on behind the scenes in order to care for each animal at the zoo. It was interesting to see how much goes into giving each animal, from insects to elephants, the best possible quality of life.


This internship was a great experience, and I feel like I got a good view of what goes into animal behavior research and the huge amount of husbandry care that goes into making any type of research possible. I have learned a lot about the data collection and analysis processes, and I have also been able to learn more about animal behavior from the animals themselves. All of this knowledge has helped me figure out my future plans since my goal is to go to graduate school and study lemur behavior. This internship has been my first real look into what it is like to do animal behavior research and it showed me that this is something I really enjoy and would like to continue to do in the future.