North Carolina Zoo works closely with many of the surrounding universities in North Carolina to provide unique learning experiences for students as well as to answer important welfare questions about animals at the Zoo. In 2015, the Zoo began partnering with North Carolina State University on the North Carolina Zoo Animal Behavior and Welfare Internship program. Every semester two to four undergraduate students work with the Zoo’s research team on various animal behavior studies on spanning a wide range of species including elephants, gorillas, sand cats, polar bears, otters, and many more! In 2017 and 2018, projects have focused on questions related to enrichment, social behavior, space use, light cycles, and seasonal or habitat changes. Occasionally, students even stay on after their internship to complete their honor’s thesis at the Zoo, including a study of visitor perceptions on elephant behavior.
In addition, Master’s students from several universities, including NCSU, East Carolina University, and Winthrop College, have worked closely with the Zoo’s scientists to design studies on visitor education, bird behavior, elephant diet and nutrition, and seabird color discrimination. Data collected by these future scientists are used by zookeepers and curators to inform management decisions and provide insight into the welfare of the animals in our care.