At the end of this week I will be temporarily moving to Kent so that I can conduct research for my final year dissertation. My dissertation may however be slightly different to most other people, because I get to work with two highly endangered wild animals! Since finding out that I had been offered a placement dissertation at The Wildwood Trust, in Kent, I have been nothing but excited to start.
The Wildwood Trust is home to four Scottish Wildcats, two of which I will be studying for my dissertation, named Isla and Jura. The Trust also houses a varied collection of other species and is involved in many conservation projects; including the recent arrival of two European Brown Bears to the Trust that were rescued from an abandoned bear breeding centre in Bulgaria. It is this real world applicability of the Trust that is so unique, that I hope to capture in my own dissertation.
And why Wildcats?
The protection of Scottish Wildcats is particularly important due to the severity of their possible extinction; it is estimated that the wild population may be as low as 400 individuals. Despite full legal protection, the species still faces a number of threats, especially from interbreeding with domestic cats and from habitat destruction. It is because of these threats that I wish to highlight the importance of their survival in captivity. Through my dissertation I will strive to assess their behaviour in captivity, identifying stress they may be experiencing. I will then relate this to how important it is to successfully conserve these animals, especially as they provide information to visitors and can change perspectives vital to keeping the species viable in the wild.
The Research I will be Undertaking:
The main component of my research will be in undertaking an ethogram, which is a methodology used to assess behaviour. I will be assessing as to whether the Scottish Wildcats exhibit any signs of stressed behaviour, and by taking notes and counting visitors to the enclosure, will aim to find out what the stressors may be that are affecting them. I will also be undertaking several other tests in order to assess the behaviour of the Wildcats to gain an idea of Isla’s and Jura’s individual personalities.
I will also be asking visitors to the Trust to take a questionnaire concerning what they feel are the most important aspects to keeping animals in captivity, and whether they feel that they have learnt from their encounters with endangered animals at the Trust. In this way I hope to validate how important it is to keep the Wildcats at the Trust housed in an effective manner, and show that their presence in the Trust is simply not for entertainment.
So on the 12th of July my time at Wildwood will begin. To find out how myself, Isla and Jura are getting on follow the #rhulworkdiss hashtag on twitter!
To find out more about The Wildwood Trust: http://www.wildwoodtrust.org