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RZSS Science Summer School


Near the end of the summer holidays, I was a student at the RZSS Science Summer School for a week. During the week at Edinburgh Zoo myself and twenty-four other students aged sixteen to eighteen from across Scotland took part in a variety of workshops and group tasks which offered a very interesting insight into Animal Care and Research in zoos. The workshops were run by a really friendly and helpful team of staff and included a vet session where we learnt how to do surgical sutures dissected a fish and received a talk from the zoo vet about the use and interpretation of x-rays and ultrasounds. Other activities included camera trapping to get a sample of the local biodiversity, being trained to use ZIMS (which is a programme that all the zoos in the world have to use to register and advertise their animals for other zoos), an interactive session which allowed us to handle a corn snake, three-banded armadillo and Madagascan tenrec, quizzes and fascinating talks about animal collection, enclosure design, enrichment and the conservation work that Edinburgh Zoo does across the world.

 We were also split into groups of five at the start of the week and given two projects to work on when we weren’t doing other activities. The first was a research task similar to doing an Advanced Higher science assignment. We were given an animal in the zoo and had to think of a research question, hypothesis, design a research method (including an ethogram if appropriate), observe our animal to collect data, analyse the data and then present our findings on the last day to our friends and families. This was a challenging task but very satisfying to prove or disprove our hypothesis at the end of the week. We also created food enrichment for these animals and watched them enjoy figuring out how to find their food. The other project was a conservation -based one. Our group was given four animals to choose from to decide which animal should be brought to the zoo next. We then had to argue our case by making a large poster detailing why our animal should be chosen, design an enclosure for them, use ZIMS to find suitable animals from other zoos, detail their specific medical and dietary requirements and suggest enrichment ideas for them. These posters were judged by keepers and management to decide which animal would hypothetically come next to the zoo.

 I loved the whole week and would definitely recommend anyone with an interest in a career in science applying and having this amazing experience. Each year this course is run and to apply you have to fill in the application form on the Edinburgh Zoo website. On it you indicate which of two weeks you would like to attend and if you would prefer to do the course at Edinburgh Zoo or the Highland Wildlife Park. If you have been successful then you receive an email confirming your place and providing further details as the dates come closer.