CHAIRE Graduate Students Brittany Fischer, Madeline Winans, and Zach England attended the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) and the International Marine Animal Trainers' Association (IMATA) Annual Conference in New Orleans last week, which took place from September 7-11. Dr. Kelly George who is their advisor and the co-director of CHAIRE accompanied students. Over 3,000 members where in attendance and the conference included over 200 education program sessions, poster presentations, and round-table topic discussions. Brittany and Madeline also had the opportunity to partake in poster presentations of their research.
Brittany's poster was titled "Connections of the Zoo Staff-Animal Bond and Ambassador Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) Welfare." The objective of her project is to develop and implement an animal welfare assessment process with emphasis on the zoo staff-animal bond. Brittany's research combines behavior observations and hair sampling to measure cortisol production as a way to determine each animal's welfare state. So far, Brittany has distributed a pre-survey to staff to determine their welfare knowledge, perception of their bond with their animals, and their willingness to participate in welfare training courses. Next steps of her project include staff's participation in an animal welfare-training workshop and post-survey which will be compared to the pre-survey.
When asked about her experience presenting at the conference Brittany stated, "I had a great experience at the AZA and IMATA Annual Conference! Having the opportunity to present a portion of my graduate research and share the work CHAIRE has been doing in collaboration with the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium was very beneficial for my professional development. Attending the conference allowed me to meet others who share my passion for animal welfare and helped me work closer to achieving my goals after I graduate in spring of 2020.”
Madeline's poster was titled, "Overview of a Long-term Welfare Assessment of California Sea Lions (Zalophus californianus) at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium." The objective of her study is to monitor and assess the welfare of individual animals throughout their transition from a satellite facility to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium as well as visitor attitudes, opinions, and knowledge of California Sea Lions. Madeline also combines behavior observations and hair sampling to determine welfare and has already been collecting data while the sea lions are at their satellite facility. She is also in the process of distributing a pre-survey to zoo visitors, and will distribute a post-survey after the sea lions arrive next year.
When asked about her experience at the conference Madeline stated, "Having the opportunity to attend the AZA/IMATA conference and present an overview of my research was a great experience. This is the first academic conference of this scale that I have attended, and I benefited tremendously from the learning and professional development opportunities throughout the week. Presenting my research to professionals in the field of zoo and aquarium research provided an opportunity for good discussion and feedback on my project, particularly from those in the area of marine mammal training and research. Presenting this project also allowed me to emphasize the collaborative work CHAIRE is doing, and I think got fellow attendees excited for the conference to be hosted in Columbus next year!"