Animal Minds

December 3, 2023 by Student Shangrila X.

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Learning Targets

  • 21st Century Skills
  • Applied Sciences & Technology
  • Inquiry and Research Design

Driving Question:

How can I collect and analyze behavioral data to inform if species can survive and thrive in an artificial environment?

Project Summary:

Shangrila X, a Grade 10 student from TGs, undertook her first personal project around the topic of animal psychology and behavior. Initially inspired by Australia’s wildlife, she adjusted her project to study animals at the Melbourne Zoo, due to the lack of accessible wildlife in the urban area where she was studying.

Shangrila’s project was motivated by a childhood memory of seeing a gorilla in distress at a zoo, which made her want to better understand and improve animal well-being in captivity. She utilized ethograms, which are tools for categorizing and defining animal behaviors, to observe and record the actions of zoo animals. Her primary subjects were a Silverback Western lowland gorilla named Otana and Asian elephants.

During her observations, Shangrila noted a significant amount of inactivity in Otana, which she initially found concerning but later attributed to a possible midday rest period. She also observed stereotypic behaviors in the elephants, which are indicators of poor welfare in captive animals. The elephants often gathered at the edge of their enclosure, suggesting they were seeking interaction and stimulation.

Shangrila found that her data was insufficient for drawing scientific conclusions but emphasized the importance of public interest and involvement in animal welfare. She suggested that zoos have improved over time but acknowledged that they can never fully replicate the natural environment for animals. She proposed the use of technology, such as VR, to provide educational experiences about wildlife, potentially improving both public knowledge and animal care practices in zoos.

Overall, Shangrila’s project highlighted the complexity of animal psychology, the limitations of zoos, and the potential for technology to enhance education and animal welfare. She concluded with a hopeful outlook, believing that increased awareness and involvement can lead to a better future for zoo animals.