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Research

Our research mission is to significantly contribute to the conservation of threatened species through applied scientific research. We collaborate with various universities and external researchers to increase collective knowledge of the natural world.

Perth Zoo has fostered research for many years. Our position of importance in Perth, the expertise of our staff and the conservation/environmental imperatives facing our world ensure that the Zoo is well-placed to take a lead role as a conservation, research and learning institution.

Research at Perth Zoo is organized into four inter-related research programs.

Reproductive Biology Unit

Aims to contribute new findings, develop new procedures, understand reproductive disease, maximise breeding conditions and effectively increase the ability for zoos around the world to achieve breeding success.

Research Opportunities

The Zoo strives for scientific excellence, encourages diversity of thinking and fosters strategic collaborations to further our research goals.

Past Research Collaborations

Perth Zoo actively encourages and offers opportunities for research projects to be conducted on its premises (including undergraduate, post-graduate and post-doctoral research projects).

Animal Ethics

Perth Zoo has established an Animal Ethics Committee that considers and approves all aspects of research and animal husbandry involving animals at Perth Zoo.


Reproductive Biology Unit

In 2005, Perth Zoo opened a unit dedicated to research and development in the field of reproductive biology (of threatened species). The unit is charged with furthering conservation research and increasing understanding of the natural world. It has been modelled on successful equivalents at London Zoo, the Smithsonian National Zoological Park and San Diego Zoo.

The Reproductive Biology Unit (RBU) aims to contribute new findings, develop new procedures, understand reproductive disease, maximise breeding conditions and effectively increase the ability for zoos around the world to achieve breeding success in captive populations. The RBU links with research institutions world-wide to attract key collaborations and grant funding allowing the Zoo’s research activities to grow.

Perth Zoo’s work in the research and breeding of native species for release into the wild has been recognised nationally. The RBU expands on the work of the Native Species Breeding Program (which focuses on threatened Western Australian species) to include other Australian species. The RBU also aims to contribute just as significantly to the international body of knowledge about reproductive processes of threatened non-native (exotic) species.

Staff and students working in the RBU will focus on research in the following areas:

Study of sperm biology – this ranges from the simple description of spermatogenic events in species through light or electron microscopy, to the investigation of freezing techniques to enable sperm to be stored for future use.

Examination of oestrus cycles – the non-invasive monitoring of hormones in faeces can be used to determine accurately the reproductive cycle of a female. This knowledge can be used, in conjunction with behavioural observations, to predict the optimal time to pair animals to secure a successful mating.

Establishment of a Genome Resource Bank – deceased animals can have their genetic material preserved by the collection and freezing of gonadal tissue and cultured skin fibroblasts.


Research Opportunities

The culture of research at Perth Zoo is one of innovation and enterprise. Our people are accustomed to developing innovative solutions to achieve their research goals. The Zoo strives for scientific excellence, encourages diversity of thinking and fosters strategic collaborations to further our research goals.

We recruit and train in a research culture, which fosters links to external research organizations and researchers on an ongoing basis.

What do we offer?

  • Perth Zoo is able to provide collaborative research opportunities for students (at Honours, Masters and PhD level) and university researchers. Capacity to collaborate on, or host research projects will depend on the nature of the project, Zoo staff availability and the number of other projects already being supported.
  • Research projects can involve animals in the Perth Zoo collection or can be focused on aspects that do not involve the use of animals and hence may not need the approval of an animal ethics committee (e.g. education, sustainable resource use). (Note: Many prospective students wish to conduct research on ‘charismatic mega fauna’ species, but the realities of zoos are that they typically hold only small numbers of these species and there is usually limited scope to conduct research involving them. Students should be realistic about what they would like to work on once they are qualified, and which species are better suited for working with while you are still learning).
  • A Perth Zoo staff member may be available to co-supervise projects and assist students with their work. However, researchers should not consider projects that require Perth Zoo staff to collect all the data on their behalf, as this is seldom practical.
  • Perth Zoo is not in a position to directly fund research projects originating from external organizations but it provides considerable in-kind support through animal access, biological samples and stored data, with those animals fully cared for, fed and managed at Perth Zoo. Keeping staff will sometimes be available to assist with procedures and senior Perth Zoo staff may also be able to co-supervise research projects further adding to the in-kind contribution.

What is required to apply?

  1. Students interested in doing a project at the Zoo should first be accepted (or provisionally accepted) as an Honours, Masters or PhD student with the university of their choice.
  2. Students wishing to do an Honours project at Perth Zoo will need to demonstrate they have a 70% (or above) average assessment from their core units over their three previous undergraduate years and that they have a sound command of written English.
  3. You should then contact the Director of Animal Health and Research to discuss potential research projects available at Perth Zoo.
  4. If your research project involves animals, you will need to fill out a Research and Ethics Application, which must then be approved by Perth Zoo’s Research and Animal Ethics Committee prior to your starting work. Developing your Research Proposal can take time so you need to do this well in advance of when you wish to begin work. (We recommend a minimum of sixteen weeks to have all arrangements and formalities settled by commencement). 

Past Research Collaborations

Perth Zoo actively encourages and offers opportunities for research projects to be conducted on its premises (including undergraduate, post-graduate and post-doctoral research projects). Numbers undertaken each year varies but can be up to 25 in progress simultaneously including as many as 12 PhD projects.

Some of the projects and collaborations undertaken at the Zoo are provided below to demonstrate the range of topics studied across Perth Zoo’s four research programs.

Animal Biology

Objectives

The objectives of the Animal Biology Program are to investigate

  • nutrition, health and disease
  • reproductive biology and genetics
  • conservation medicine
  • behaviour

as they relate to species management.

Examples

  • Development and improvement of clinical tools for rehabilitating endangered black cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus spp.) back to the wild.
  • Investigating the capacity of captive Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) to discriminate between familiar and unfamiliar people using visual, auditory and olfactory cues.

Wildlife Ecology

 Objectives

The key objectives of the Wildlife Ecology Program are centred around

  • the Zoo’s Urban Renewal fauna re-introduction program;
  • collaborative captive-breeding for release projects run in conjunction with the Department of Parks and Wildlife, Australian Wildlife Conservancy and other stakeholders; and
  • black cockatoo fieldwork and conservation medicine (which is a collaborative program involving Parks and Wildlife and Murdoch University).

Examples

  • Hematologic and plasma biochemical reference values for three species of Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus spp).
  • Reproductive parameters and behaviour of short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus acanthion) at Perth Zoo.
  • Paternity, sperm storage and sperm competition in the critically endangered Western Swamp Tortoise.
  • Zoo facilitated urban renewal of native fauna species in a rapidly expanding capital city.
  • Ecology and flight characteristics of ghost bats (Macroderma gigas): Pre-requisites for in-situ reintroduction from captivity.
  • The effect of behaviour and physiology on translocation success for Western Australia marsupials.
  • Investigation of the effectiveness of Black Rat (Rattus rattus) control at Perth Zoo.
  • Re-introduction of captive bred Bush Stone-curlews (Burhinus grallarius) from Caversham Wildlife Park and Perth Zoo to Woodland Reserve, Whiteman Park.

Sustainable Environment

Objectives

The objectives of the Sustainable Environment Program are to investigate

  • water, power, and gas consumption
  • waste management practices within the Zoo

with a view to minimising the use of finite resources and Perth Zoo’s impact on our environment.

Examples

  • Fit for purpose: an examination of water quality and re-use at Perth Zoo.
  • Analysis of hydraulic performance and its effect on the water quality of the Main Lake at Perth Zoo.
  • Thermal regulation of zoo enclosures using phase change materials.

Environmental Communication and Socio-ecology

Objectives

The objective of the Environment Communication and Socio-Ecology Program is to investigate:

  • community attitudes and perceptions of the Zoo
  • animal welfare issues
  • ways of improving our education, interpretation, communication activities.

By doing this we will be better able to deliver social improvements by connecting people with wildlife and Perth Zoo.

Examples

  • Establishing connections between animals and humans through experiential and educational interiors at the Zoo.
  • The role of aesthetics and captions in a wildlife conservation photographic exhibition.
  • The role of anthropomorphised flagship species in motivating zoo visitor participation in Tiwest Nightstalk.
  • Impact of biodiversity conservation and conservation messages on school children.
  • Optimising collaboration between secondary schools and informal science providers: A stakeholder alignment perspective.

Animal Ethics

Perth Zoo’s Animal Ethics Committee approves any research application that involves animals or animal husbandry at Perth Zoo. Perth Zoo is required to manage the keeping and use of its animal collection in accordance with the Western Australian Animal Welfare Act 2002 (‘the Act’) and the Australian Code for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes 2013 (‘the Code’).

Accordingly, it has established an Animal Ethics Committee that considers and approves all aspects of research and animal husbandry involving animals at Perth Zoo. The Zoo’s Animal Ethics Committee is constituted in accordance with the requirements set out in the Code and operates in accordance with an approved set of Terms of Reference.

Any proposed research project involving animals at Perth Zoo must have prior written approval from the Animal Ethics Committee (AEC). Prospective researchers and students should be aware that Perth Zoo’s Research and Animal Ethics Committees meet quarterly and that ample time should be allowed to develop, refine and (where necessary) amend proposals in light of comments or direction by either of these committees. Upon receipt of approval from the Zoo’s AEC you may also be required to submit a separate application to your University AEC for their information only.

The procedures document below explains why - and how - the Perth Zoo's Animal Ethics Committee operates. 

Key Welfare Documents

Perth Zoo’s own Animal Welfare Charter (PDF). This guides all our animal-related activities.

World Zoo and Aquarium Welfare Strategy –  created to recognize that zoos and aquariums have a responsibility to achieve high standards of animal welfare in support of their goals as modern conservation organisations.