UK zoos and aquariums have had a close relationship with science ever since the creation of the Zoological Society of London in 1826 and the later opening of Regent’s Park Zoo as a scientific establishment.
The relationship continues and today modern zoos and aquariums offer scientists unique opportunities to carry out research on the biology of the animals and plants they care for, which cannot be undertaken effectively in the wild.
There are a huge range of topics covered within zoo and aquarium research. Many UK zoo animals are part of European breeding programmes (EEPs) that aim to preserve threatened species and create self-sustaining populations. The importance of these programmes have led to a great number of scientific studies dedicated to understanding the reproductive biology and needs of our animals.
For a lot of species, the zoo or aquarium environment differs greatly from that of their natural, wild habitat. This may have an effect on animals that are adapted to the challenges of the wild. Therefore, a large proportion of the research carried out in zoos and aquariums focuses on understanding how the captive environment may influence the animals, and where appropriate, how this influence can be minimized.
For example, some studies investigate whether aspects of animal husbandry could be improved e.g. through diet or veterinary care.
Other topics include the effect of visitors on animals and vice versa, evaluation of the effectiveness of education tools and visitor awareness of native species.
There are significant legal considerations that must be taken into account when undertaking research on zoo animals. Scientists cannot carry out intrusive studies which may cause distress to the animals. Proposals to carry out research within a zoo or aquarium are carefully reviewed by the collection and assessed in terms of ethics as well as quality of the science and logistics.
In addition, BIAZA review applications from researchers aiming to carry out research across multiple collections. This ensures that BIAZA members can prioritise their limited resources and focus on the most valuable studies.
BIAZA's Research Committee supports member collections and researchers in carrying out the best possible quality zoo and aquarium research. Join the BIAZA Research Facebook Group, for all BIAZA research related news.