Fota Wildlife Park and University College Cork (UCC) are collaborating to support two full-time research projects around animal conservation, enrichment, and welfare, co-funded by the Irish Research Council Enterprise Partnership Scheme.
The funding will support PhD and post-doctorate research projects by Daniel Moloney and Dr Rebecca Newman of the School of Biological Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES) at UCC in partnership with Fota Wildlife Park. Both research projects are primarily focused on animal behaviour, captive animal welfare, conservation, and movement ecology.
Fota Wildlife Park has a long-term collaboration with BEES and UCC and engages in a diverse range of research. Many of these longer-term research projects could not be undertaken without the financial support of the Irish Research Council. This research has led to worldwide collaborative research projects, conducting comparative research with wild conspecifics. Fota Wildlife Park has engaged in research with other zoological institutions in Ireland and participated in local research including native species research. There have been over 100 final year student projects completed over the last 38 years at Fota along with seven Masters, eight PhDs and three Postdoctoral projects.
Professor John O’Halloran, President, University College Cork said: “We are delighted to announce these research projects with Fota Wildlife Park which mark a new chapter in UCC’s longstanding relationship with the Park. With natural habitats under continuing pressure, zoology is an important area of study that can have a lasting impact on a global scale. This collaboration attests to the university’s ambition that our students acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development and become active citizens who make a valuable contribution to the world around them”.
Professor Sarah Culloty, Head, College of Science, Engineering and Food Science, UCC said: “I would like to congratulate Daniel and Rebecca on receiving this funding from the Irish Research Council which will further strengthen our ties with Fota Wildlife Park. Much of UCC’s zoo research is conducted at Fota and we are extremely grateful for their support in providing these experiential learning and field study opportunities to our students”.
Sean McKeown, Director of Fota Wildlife Park said, “We’re delighted with the announcement of this award from the Irish Research Council Enterprise Partnership Scheme and to be able to co-fund these research projects with UCC. These projects are important scientific activities to Fota Wildlife Park and ultimately contribute to the success of our breeding programmes and enable us to maintain the highest possible welfare standards. Fota Wildlife Park is known for its naturalistic habitats and excellence in husbandry and extensive research projects help us determine how to provide these animals with the highest quality of care. Research is one of the core values of Fota Wildlife Park and this scientific analysis provides data for the management of future endangered populations, in zoos and wildlife parks but also in the wild.”
Damien Henehan, Programme Manager for the Irish Research Council said “As the national funder of excellent research across all disciplines, the Irish Research Council (IRC) is delighted to support UCC researchers Daniel Moloney and Dr Rebecca Newman as they work with enterprise partner Fota Wildlife Park to explore the important areas of animal conservation, enrichment, and welfare. The IRC Enterprise Partnership Scheme is tailored to provide excellent early-stage researchers with vital experience working with an organisation relevant to their field of research. For enterprise, the scheme provides an accessible, flexible route to research collaboration and a proven method of identifying new talent for innovation. The scheme enriches the pool of knowledge through collaboration and by enabling knowledge exchange with government departments and agencies, enterprise, and civic society.”
Dr Rebecca Newman’s research interests are primarily focused on animal behaviour and captive animal welfare, with a particular interest in understanding the effects of environmental enrichment and human-animal relationships in zoos. Her PhD research was funded by the Irish Research Council Enterprise Partnership Scheme and Fota Wildlife Park and was centred on the behaviour of lion-tailed macaques in captivity, both at Fota Wildlife Park and in other zoos in the UK and The Netherlands.
Daniel Moloney’s research over the next four years will focus on animals that Fota Wildlife Park cares for both in captivity and in the wild. Daniel will be looking to understand the different elements of captive animals’ lives, including how the number of visitors to the park and the noise they make may influence cheetah’s behaviour and welfare. Daniel will also be looking to understand how cheetah’s personality influences their interactions with the care practices staff use. As well as behaviour, Daniel will be looking to understand the reasoning groups of animals make when moving in herds, using the large multi-species paddock as a focus of this research.
Finally, Daniel will join the ongoing conservation project being conducted by Fota Wildlife Park to preserve and boost numbers of Natterjack toads in Ireland. Currently Ireland’s rarest amphibian species and considered endangered by the IUCN within Ireland, Fota Wildlife Park has been working alongside the National Parks and Wildlife Services as well as the Dingle Aquarium to collect and protect Natterjack eggs in captivity before releasing them back into the wild to boost populations. Daniel will be using radio-frequency tags and DNA analysis to establish survival rates and movements of toads released back into the wild.
(Image credits; Darragh Kane).