Aston student shares knowledge at Animal Kingdom

09 December 2005 – for immediate release

Sophie Stevens, age 22, is an undergraduate student taking Human Biology at Aston University. As part of her year’s placement at Twycross Zoo she worked on an assignment on reptile environment and enrichment – essentially how to make the zoo’s reptiles happier. The paper that she produced has now received national recognition and she is to present it at an international conference at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in the USA.

Sophie wanted to create an environment for the Bearded Dragons at Twycross Zoo that assured their stereotypical behaviour as captive creatures would stop. This would help the animals to express the normal behaviour that they would display in the wild. Sophie redesigned their enclosure (so totally changing the original exhibit) to create a more naturalistic environment. She changed the lighting, added rocks and wood, altered the temperature and supplied the optimum amount of water.

Reptile enrichment is a relatively new field of research. Sophie noticed a conference advertised in Zoo News asking for papers to be sent for the RATE (Reptile and Amphibian Training and Enrichment) conference, which was to be held at Animal Kingdom in Orlando, USA. She sent an abstract of her work and was astounded when she received a reply asking her to give a presentation at the conference.

It is a real honour for an undergraduate student studying for their first degree to be invited to present a paper at this prestigious event. Both Twycross Zoo and Aston University have co-funded her trip. 75% of Aston’s undergraduate students choose sandwich programmes, leading to enhanced career opportunities at the end of their studies.

Sophie said: “I feel extremely privileged to have been given the opportunity to present my paper at the RATE conference. Without the help of Twycross Zoo in allowing me to carry out my research and both the zoo and Aston providing funding, this would not have been possible”.

Suzanne Boardman, Director of Twycross Zoo said: “The zoo was delighted to be involved with this project and we feel it is a great opportunity for this young student to display her work to her peers”.

Employable Graduates; Exploitable Research