Auckland Zoo is currently undertaking its most ambitious development in its 95-year history – a grand design home for the animals, and a world-class immersive experience for visitors. With construction comes noise, and some days a lot of it. Manager of Conservation Science and Research, Dr. Richard Jakob-Hoff is leading a team of researchers and collaborators aiming to determine the impact of that noise on the animals – especially those with an acute sense of hearing. Sound is somewhat of a ‘super-sense’ for elephants, giraffes, alligators and emus – some can hear extremely high frequencies, low frequencies, and alligators can even feel sound through their jaws.
There have been few studies completed about noise impact on animals, but with collaborators from Unitech, University of Auckland, and Massey there has never been a study this detailed. The methodology involves analysing both video footage of the animals, and measuring their stress hormones from their faecal samples. Footage was taken of the animals for a period of time before construction, and then also while they were exposed to construction noises. Different types of behaviours were given different codes, and then the footage will be analysed frame by frame and coded.
This research is still ongoing and being analysed, and the end results will give hard evidence for decision making around animal management. With animal welfare a top priority, the importance of such research is immeasurable in an environment which is constantly evolving to meet the needs of the animals.
Dr. Richard Jakob-Hoff began his zoo career as a keeper at Whipsnade Zoo, and then decided to study Veterinary Science at Murdoch University in Australia. Dr Jakob-Hoff believes that at zoos, with the privilege of looking after such unusual animals, also comes an obligation to research as much as we can about them, feed that back into the care of that animal, and its conservation.