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Four Beacon College student researchers have produced studies accepted for presentation at two student research conferences.

Working as research assistants over the summer for Dr. Brian Ogle, an anthrozoologist and chair of the humanities and general education department, the quartet — Allana Wheeler, Ben McShane, Shona Devlin, and Annabel DeSmet — produced several studies that were accepted by the Florida Undergraduate Research Conference (FURC) and Anthrozoology as International Practice: A Student Conference in Animal Studies (AIP). 

“I am very proud of this group,” Ogle said. “They have surpassed any expectation that I held for them and continually pushed themselves as a team to perform at their highest level. Not many undergraduate students have the opportunity to participate in research, let alone be able to present or publish their work. The fact that this group is in the process of both is pretty remarkable. Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, they overcame and produced some great quality work.”

FURC, held virtually from February 26-27, is one of the nation’s largest multi-disciplinary research conferences, and it is open to all undergraduate researchers in the state of Florida. AIP, scheduled online from March 4-5, is a student researcher conference hosted by Exeter University in England.

The students’ papers also currently are under review for publication in an academic journal. 

Their research included:

 Using Enrichment to Decrease Aggression Between Stingrays in a Mixed-Species Exhibit 

Allana Wheeler, Ben McShane, Shona Devlin, and Annabel DeSmet 

(accepted for the Florida Undergraduate Research Conference)

This research study was completed in partnership with the Sea Life Orlando aquarium. This study addressed concerns of aggression between multiple species of stingrays on display. Findings from this study highlight the need to create both unpredictable and cognitively challenging environments for animals housed in captivity. The overall frequency of aggression decreased, and the specific aggressive behaviors altered when enrichment was unpredictable and varied. In addition, there was an observed increase in social behaviors in this condition. Predictable enrichment events demonstrated an increase in the overall frequency of aggression.   

North American Felid Keepers Perception of Welfare and the Implications for Zoo Managers

Annabel DeSmet  

(accepted for both conferences) 

The study set out to examine the perceptions of felid welfare in zoos and clarify the factors that influence an individual animal care professional’s acceptance and recognition of welfare. A total of 121 survey responses from felid keepers in AZA-accredited facilities were included in analysis. Results demonstrated job satisfaction is directly linked to access to training on welfare topics. The relationship between job satisfaction and the fulfillment of the Five Freedoms for animals is positively correlated, r(116)= .217, p=.001. Additionally, overall job satisfaction does not appear to influence the bond with felids, but it does with other zoo animals. Participants in this study demonstrate the direct connection between job satisfaction and perceived fulfillment of the Five Freedoms. Participants who were provided access to training and information on animal welfare, often demonstrated a higher job satisfaction, more positive perception of their employer, and overall view of zoos meeting the Five Freedoms with captive felids.

A Preliminary Analysis of the Difference in Zookeeper Attachment to Animals by Taxonomic Groups

(accepted to both conferences) 

This study set out to examine the difference in self-reported bonds by zookeepers and how these bonds potentially influence perceptions of welfare. Findings demonstrate there is a statistically significant difference between taxonomic groups and the average bond as measured by the Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale. This difference is not observed based on other participant factors, including years of professional experience, gender, or ethnicity.

Members of the student research team were thrilled with the outcomes.

“I was very excited to hear that our research had been accepted to the conferences and is under consideration for publication,” said Devlin, 19, a senior anthrozoology major. “I remember thinking just how good it felt that something true resulted from our labors. It is very rewarding to have the validation of our efforts made through these means and to know that our handwork and dedication to the department has paid off.”

Wheeler echoed the sentiment.

“I was elated when I found out, said Wheeler, 23, a senior anthrozoology major from Winter Park, Fla. “My dream is to publish and contribute to the larger body of knowledge. I take great pride in the implications of our research. The most rewarding thing for me regarding the research we conducted was how it positively affected the relationship between the stingrays and the aquarists. I also treasured having such a great team who became my close friends.”

DeSmet, too, saw the value personally and professionally.

“While this was an invaluable experience as far as academics go, I got the most out of working the summer with my teammates Allana, Shona, and Ben,” said DeSmet, 20, a junior anthrozoology major from Macon, Ga. “I have also found that I have great interest in working with felids in zoos and sanctuaries due to the nature of one of the projects I worked on, so I’m now seeking out the experience necessary to work with felids after I graduate from Beacon.”

» Watch their virtual presentations for the Florida Undergraduate Research Conference