The highest priorities in our park are awarded to Education and Conservation but understand that for both of these to cover all aspects of their respective fields it is important to try and engage our staff in conducting research within the park. This can be done by either supporting their own research interests should such arise or through allowing them to support outside organisations.
We do not give any funding or staff hours towards the advancement of research at our park and will continue with this policy at present whilst we continue to grow the husbandry, education and conservation aspects of the park. As we move forward however we will plan to free up more resources and hours to be able to commit more towards research both with the animals which we work with and in any in-situ applications.
We do however allow outside researchers to gain access to our facilities to carry out research with our animal collection or data sets. We have in the past worked with institutions such as the University of Kent at Canterbury who carried out an extensive evolutionary study in to birds, taking DNA samples from a variety of avian species in our collection. Before, during and after the completion of a research project carried out in conjunction with Wingham Wildlife Park we do have a number of conditions which need to be complied with:
- A research project proposal must be submitted to the park and must be approved by management before any work can be carried out. This needs to be done at least 4 weeks in advance, however for any study which goes beyond studying data sets or access to faecal samples this process may take longer as it may be subject to the scrutiny of our ethical review committee who meet on average, once every 6 months. This proposal must give full details of all methodological and ethical considerations to be considered by the park first. We retain the right to refuse the start of any project or terminating a project part way through its duration if it digresses from the proposal.
- If you wish to carry out research at the park please note that our research policy is based upon the World Zoo Associations Conservation Policy 2015; Committing to Conservation, and as such there are a number of questions which that document asks in relation to research for furthering conservation – please ensure that you have and understand good answers for the following points which will be considered by our committee:
- What is the problem that generated the question?
- What is the specific research question?
- Is the answer going to be important to informing zoo operations?
- How will the research be carried out?
- Does the research need and have ethics approval?
- What will the project cost and how will those funds be secured?
- Who will assist with the project and what experience do they have?
- How will the results be published or presented?
- What are the overall benefits to the zoo?
- One further question which we have added to this list ourselves is, will this research tell us anything new, or reconfirm / challenge things which we already know / think we know by repeating past research using improved research methods?
- The research project must show that it can be of direct benefit to the species, wider conservation issues or specific specimens in question.
- Research can be carried out on our living collection, other samples, studying animal records (which would be in the form of the standardised system used by the ZIMS system developed by the International Species Information System, for easy comparison with other institutions which are leaders in their animal record keeping practices and as such share the same system) or through interviewing staff; however, all of these are subject to availability of samples and assistance. Please note that research using our living animals is limited to observational studies, and those which require an individual to be captured, sedated or manipulated in a way which deviates from their normal daily routine will not be considered under any circumstances.
- On completion of the project a copy of any publication / draft should be supplied to the park for their records, and any co-operation with the park should be referenced in any such material, mentioning the parks name and by name, any members of staff who may have directly helped with the research. Any plans for publications to be approached for submission should be passed on to the park, and the results of any such submissions should be made to the park.
- As well as any completed reports the park will be given, if requested by any members of management staff, copies of any raw data which has been collected to allow for independent interpretation at a later date if required. Such data should also be made available for use by members of staff if our own research projects are to be carried out.
- Research access is available to all professional researchers, Phd and Msc students, Veterinary and animal care staff, conservation professionals and younger students carrying out projects in a school, college or under graduate university setting.
We are more than happy to extend as much help as possible to any such work to be carried out at the park and strive to get more involved with research. We understand the responsibility and requirement of modern zoos to do such research to try and further our understanding of the animals which we work with. For a park of our size it is difficult to find dedicated research staff and as such the option to allow outside access is the most viable solution to encouraging research to be carried out at the park.
There is however one type of research which our staff are actively encouraged to engage in, which does not require any formal research training and which will not be published to journals etc. However, they can be very useful tools when working with other zoos who may have the same challenges as us. We encourage staff to observe and document any challenging moves and acquisitions etc. which we may have with the animal collection, with examples such as:
- The introduction of 2 established groups of Slender Tailed Meerkats.
- Effectiveness of different types of enrichment for Big Cats.
Any such reports can be submitted by staff to the wider zoo and public community through the use of the Wingham Wildlife Park keepers blog. This resource is freely available and a great way for our staff to get their first experiences of contributing to the wider animal care and conservation community.
We feel that for the resources which we currently have available to us, we are making the most positive contribution which we can to the research world and as such are able to fulfil our duty to not necessarily carry out a vast amount of our own research but to make our animal collection and numerous years of animal data available in a controlled manner to people who may benefit from such access.
We understand the importance of zoological collections in the field of wildlife research when compared to actually studying the animals in the field. Especially with well adapted animals it is possible to bridge the gap between these two situations allowing us to find out more about the habits of animals in a captive setting, to see what they are doing on a 24-hour basis in some cases, and to see how they adapt to changing conditions – something which is becoming increasingly important as natural habitats continue to disappear and change. However, the research which can be carried out in zoological collections does not limit its applications to conservation, but instead we can, with the help of researchers, continue to improve husbandry techniques and standards for ourselves and others.