Fostering ethical and informed interactions with the world around us

Members of the Conservation Psychology and Applied Animal Behaviour Group (CPAAB) work collaboratively on a number of interdisciplinary research projects with multiple stakeholders, including government, industry, community groups and other scientists, both locally and internationally. The research conducted by CPAAB at UniSA falls into three broad areas.

Responsible interactions with wildlife 

Humans innately seek close encounters with wild animals, whether in natural habitats, such as visiting mountain gorillas in Rwanda or swimming with orcas in Norway, or at zoos and aquaria. Without proper evaluation, we cannot fully understand the impact of these intimate encounters. Do they change the participants’ knowledge, their attitudes towards conservation or facilitate behaviour change? How does the encounter impact on the behaviour and welfare of the animals involved in the encounter?

Study species: primates (particularly great apes), felids (exotic & domestic), pinnipeds, dingoes, sharks.

Evaluation of community conservation and citizen science projects 

Members of our group work closely with Zoos Victoria Director Rachel Lowry and her Wildlife Conservation and Science team to evaluate community conservation and visitor engagement projects. Current projects include the ‘seal the loop’ marine wildlife entanglement awareness campaign, ‘Don’t palm us off’ palm oil labelling, ‘They’re calling on you’ mobile phone recycling and the ‘Love your locals’ information series, raising the profile of 20 Victorian terrestrial species.

Several members have contributed to running and evaluating projects that provide opportunities for the public to contribute to scientific research, and help us understand how people feel about and interact with local wildlife. Past projects include the Cat Tracker study, which analysed domestic cat behaviour, and ‘FlukerPost’ projects.

Applied animal behaviour, cognition and welfare

As ambassadors for their wild counterparts, animals that are housed in optimal zoo or sanctuary environments have the potential to inspire, affect, educate and reconnect human visitors to nature. More recently, members of our group have investigated personality in animals (primarily great apes and felids) and considered how personality assessment can be used to improve welfare and management of pet cats and animals in zoos.

Study species: primates (orangutans, chimpanzees, gorillas, siamangs), pinnipeds (Australian sea-lions, Californian sea-lions, New Zealand fur seals, leopard seals), felids (caracals, servals, cheetahs, lions, tigers, leopards), giant tortoises, giant pandas, canids (African painted dogs, dingoes), common hippopotamus, parrots (long-billed corellas, galahs).

Carla Litchfield talking to a group of students at the Adelaide zoo