Rachel Pietragallo-Brown

University of Birmingham


Engineering captive environments to promote wildtype behaviour in orangutans and bonobos


Dr Jackie Chappell Dr Susannah Thorpe

PhD Summary

In order to conserve a species the focus is required to be on the organism as a whole, which includes behavioural traits, physical adaptations as well as the genetics of the animals (with the latter being the current primary focus for animal collections). Therefore in order to design and engineer captive environments which promote the wildtype behaviour for each species the extent to which the captive and wild behavioural repertoires differ need to be quantified. Following this recommendations can be made and modifications to the current enclosures implemented, which will assist in replicating wildtype behaviour profiles. This project also aims to use the data collected to develop and extend the EDT to include all non-human great apes.

What inspires you?

I think like most my experiences as a small child inspired my interest in the natural word. Always being happiest when outside and around animals.

Previous Activity

Before my PhD I was a lecturer at a land-based college teaching animal management predominantly to level 3 students and prior to this I was a primate keeper at Twycross Zoo.

Why did you choose Docotoral Research?

Since completing my MSc I knew I have wanted to carry out Doctoral Research, and I have been waiting for the right project to come along at the right time. The project I am undertaking is perfect for my areas of interest and builds on my desire whilst a keeper and lecturer of wanting to make a positive difference to the behaviour of animals in captivity and raising awareness.

Why did you choose a CENTA Studentship?

Honestly the initial thing that sparked an interest in CENTA was the project itself however upon investigation the training offered by the studentship I felt was essential and only increased my interest in the studentship.

What are your future plans

I think that studying at Birmingham and within CENTA will enable me to develop a wide range of skills and most importantly allow for my research to have links with industry and end users right from the beginning. Making for a career within a zoo-based research department much more promising. The internships and placement that are incorporated into the training will allow for excellent networking and experience within the industry.