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Animal Bonding

Beardsley Zoo and Fairfield University’s Behavioral Study Program



Critically endangered, the Amur Tigers are a subspecies of Siberian Tigers. They live up to 25 years in captivity. Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo is home to two Amurs—a male, Petya, and a female, Changbai.

Photos courtesy Beardsley Zoo

Here’s an AP bio test word for you: ethology. It is the study of animal behavior that helps us to understand the link between living organisms and the environment. Since behavior is how animals define their lives, including humans and our own behavior, then understanding animal behavior should be at the top of our priorities. Well, it certainly is for Bridgeport’s Beardsley Zoo and a group of biology students from Fairfield University who are collaborating on a study program—the only one of its kind in the country.

Administered by Jim Knox, the zoo’s education curator, and Rob Tomas, associate curator, with Dr. Ashley Byun, Fairfield University’s associate professor of biology, the program engages undergraduate students in observing and documenting animal behavior. Undergraduates are primarily biology majors, but others participate that are interested in advancing the understanding of animal behavior.

“Our students contribute 400 to 450 hours of behavioral observation each semester,” explains Knox. “They receive extensive training before beginning to look for patterns and behavior that can help us further our mission of animal care and conservation.”

Students observe the behavior of zoo animals, but also wild animals that live on the zoo grounds. In their initial classroom training, students are shown how to collect and analyze data by developing an ethogram, a template for behaviors that can be observed. Observable behaviors include time spent climbing, swimming, foraging, interacting with others, and scent marking. Results are interpreted under the direction of Dr. Byun. 

“What they observe allows us to make the best choices for animal welfare and enrichment, helps in the ongoing breeding program for endangered and threatened animals, and contributes to environment and resource management. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the students’ contributions,” says Tomas.

The program began as an outgrowth of the University’s Service Learning Course, designed to help students gain experience in an academic field while providing community service. Traditionally, the course focused on helping children, for example, instead of animals. “It was unusual to think of Service Learning as extending to the animal community,” explains Byun. “But community includes everything, because we share the world with animals.”

The importance of behavioral studies is directly linked to the importance of zoos. Byun suggests that we reframe our point of view and think of zoos as a kind of an ark. “The role of zoos today is very different because there is nowhere else for these animals to go,” she explains. “For declining animal populations, it’s not realistic to try to increase their numbers in the wild, because there’s not enough habitat to support them.” 

Don Goff, deputy director of Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo, said that students have measured tiger responses and behavior during estrus, identifying valuable information critical to successful breeding. The zoo’s Amur (or Siberian) Tigers are critically endangered due to loss of habitat and the illegal use of tiger bone for medicinal purposes. “If we can successfully breed more tigers based on student observations, then we’re able to help bolster dwindling populations.”

One of the most interesting behavioral studies resulted in identifying critical information about beloved zoo residents: the Prairie Dogs. Because the Prairie Dogs live primarily underground, the zookeepers were aware of some aggressive behavior occurring periodically, but couldn’t be sure what was triggering it.

Students interested in learning more about the connectivity of the burrows inserted a (harmless, non-toxic) fog machine into a burrow to see where the smoke exited. They realized there were two separate colonies. The zookeepers had been placing food and hay for bedding material in only one area in the exhibit, creating territorial issues. The study caused a change in feeding procedures. Today, food is placed in two different areas. Aggression problem solved. 

Students also documented first year interactions between the Zoo’s mother and baby Giant Anteater. There is very little research anywhere in the world on Giant Anteater behavior, raising hopes that other zoos may begin to copy the work begun by Beardsley. The students set up a camera trap, and captured rare footage of Anteater labor and birth. With that baby now a year old, the Anteater study is refocused on acoustic signals similar to Anteater baby sounds that elicit a powerful response.

Students are also studying the North American Porcupine—trying to solve a practical problem for the typically shy animal: how the exhibit can be changed to make the animal more comfortable, which may result in less hiding behavior.

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Cost: Free for members; $10 for non-members; $8 for seniors and students with ID

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
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Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

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Having reached #10 on the iTunes Rock Chart before going on hiatus in 2012, roots-rock band Barefoot Truth returns to the stage this summer. Barefoot Truth is a symbol of genuine independent...

Cost: $28/ticket; Members Save: $3/ticket

Where:
StageOne at FTC
70 Sanford Street
Fairfield, CT  06824
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Egotistical leading man, director, and producer Fred Graham is reunited with his ex-wife, Lilli Vanessi, when the two are forced to play opposite one another in a new production of...

Cost: $50-$360

Where:
Waveny Park
70 Pine St.
New Canaan, CT  06840
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An irreverent, fast-paced romp through the Bard’s plays, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) was London’s longest-running comedy having clocked a very palpable nine...

Cost: Free Admission

Where:
Christine's Garden
151 Main Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
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Nature is on display in “A Reverence For Nature” with pieces that reflect the artists’ admiration of nature or the environment in a multitude of ways. Exhibiting artists include...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maritime Garage Gallery
11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
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Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Nadia Martinez
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Garden Menagerie Exhibition on view through August 25, 2018 during regular library hours Garden Menagerie, features a variety of works by Alex Sax and a selection of nineteenth-century books...

Cost: Free and open to the public.

Where:
Pequot Library
720 Pequot Avenue
Southport, CT  06890
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Sponsor: Pequot Library
Telephone: 120-325-9034615
Contact Name: Tracy Steneken
Website »

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The Bruce Museum spotlights the creative energy and vitality of fine art created by regional high school students in the 8th annual iCreate exhibition. Opening on June 9 and continuing...

Cost: Adults $10; Students and Seniors $8; Members and Children Under 5 Free

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
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Telephone: 203.413.6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

Heather Gaudio Fine Artis pleased to present “Burn Baby Burn”, a group exhibition featuring works by Kathleen Kucka, Dennis...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
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Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: (203)801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

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One of the Largest Book Sales in New England, runs Friday, July 27 to Tuesday, July 31, 2018. 9am - 6pm daily (until 2pm on Tues.) OVER 100,000 BOOKS, CDs, DVDs, and RECORDS, plus unique...

Cost: Free and open to the public.

Where:
Pequot Library
720 Pequot Avenue
Southport, CT  06890
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Sponsor: Pequot Library
Telephone: 203-259-0346
Website »

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A series of graphic novel-style panels designed by illustrator Kirk Manley tells the dramatic story of the spy ring that operated between New York City, Long Island, and Fairfield during the...

Cost: Members: Free; Adults: $5; Seniors & Students: $3; children 5 and under: Free.

Where:
Fairfield Museum
370 Beach Rd
Fairfield, CT  06824
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Come prepared to get up and moving! Join in the fun with interactive performances by local dance studios, fitness demonstrations, family-friendly activities & much more!  Free Prize...

Cost: Please bring a healthy food donation item to benefit a local food pantry.

Where:
Paradise Green
Main St. & Huntington Rd
Stratford, CT  06614
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Wigs & Wishes® Powered by Friends Are By Your Side® Every day, thousands of women and children are diagnosed with cancer. Wigs & Wishes® Powered by Friends Are By Your Side®...

Cost: $10 entrance and $40 for participation

Where:
Wall Street Theater
71 Wall Street
Norwalk , CT  06850
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Sponsor: Wall Street Theater
Telephone: 877-987-8764
Contact Name: Jeanne Moore
Website »

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Join Black Rock Art Guild in the Reading Garden for an afternoon of readings featuring BRAG poets and performing artists. This event takes place at the Bridgeport Library on July 28, from 2:30- 5...

Cost: Free Admission

Where:
Bridgeport Library- Black Rock Branch
2705 Fairfield Ave
Bridgeport, CT  06605
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Sponsor: Bridgeport Library
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On June 23, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich opens Expressionism in Print: The Early Works of Richard Haas, 1957 - 64 in the Arcade Gallery. The exhibition will be on display through October 21, 2018....

Cost: Free for members; $10 for non-members; $8 for seniors and students with ID

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

Egotistical leading man, director, and producer Fred Graham is reunited with his ex-wife, Lilli Vanessi, when the two are forced to play opposite one another in a new production of...

Cost: $50-$360

Where:
Waveny Park
70 Pine St.
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Website »

More information

An irreverent, fast-paced romp through the Bard’s plays, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) was London’s longest-running comedy having clocked a very palpable nine...

Cost: Free Admission

Where:
Christine's Garden
151 Main Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Website »

More information

Garden Menagerie Exhibition on view through August 25, 2018 during regular library hours Garden Menagerie, features a variety of works by Alex Sax and a selection of nineteenth-century books...

Cost: Free and open to the public.

Where:
Pequot Library
720 Pequot Avenue
Southport, CT  06890
View map »


Sponsor: Pequot Library
Telephone: 120-325-9034615
Contact Name: Tracy Steneken
Website »

More information

Hiking and practicing yoga outside in the fresh air leaves you feeling uplifted, centered, and peaceful! In warm weather months, we meet regularly in various parks and trails. Each event starts...

Cost: Three and Five Class Packages (3 times for $33, 5 times for $42)

Where:
Vary with each class
, CT


Website »

More information

Heather Gaudio Fine Artis pleased to present “Burn Baby Burn”, a group exhibition featuring works by Kathleen Kucka, Dennis...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: (203)801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

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