ISR: Learning From Lemurs

Amber Hatfield ’21 is a true blue Zooie and has volunteered at the Trevor Zoo as a middle schooler and every summer since. Amber’s ISR has been many years in the making and progressed from an overarching love of animals to more focused research about animal behavior and well-being. “My most important experience at the zoo is getting to work so closely with so many endangered animals,” she said. “By working at the zoo and with the zoo staff I got a chance to really see if I want to pursue a career with animals.”
Amber began to formulate her ISR during a Millbrook Engage summer internship at the zoo during which she created enrichment for various animals. Observing that the lemurs were most engaged with her enrichment items, Amber focused her ISR on the effect of enrichment on lemurs in particular. The Trevor Zoo is home to three black and white lemurs and five ringtails, including a newborn. Native to Madagascar, the Trevor Zoo lemurs are accustomed to their home and companions at the Zoo and have plenty of room to roam and explore in their habitats. After using the fall and winter to observe and gather baseline data, Amber designed and constructed wooden puzzle boxes to engage the lemurs in a new and challenging activity. The boxes feature several locked compartments containing food treats. Each compartment is secured by a unique latch that the lemurs must open to get the treat. The lemurs are exposed to the puzzle boxes for 30 minutes a day, three times a week. Amber collected stool samples from the habitats to be analyzed for levels of cortisol, a hormone produced when a lemur feels stress or fear. Amber will interpret an elevated cortisol level to mean that the lemur has been engaged with the activity and that it has served as an enrichment. Though most of the lemurs have explored and examined the boxes, only one, Bombo, a black and white lemur, has been able to open one of the boxes and access the treat. Amber is still gathering data and plans to analyze the samples at Vassar.
Like the Trevor Zoo itself, Millbrook’s ISR program provides a truly unique opportunity for students to do real research in pursuit of answers to their own questions. Amber came to Millbrook with a love of animals and has been able to leverage unique programs like Millbrook Engage, ISR, and, of course, the Trevor Zoo, for her future. “The entire project has prepared me for the research I may take part in in the future,” said Amber. “I know how to create, use, and read behavioral ethograms which will help me when working with marine mammals, which I hope to do in the future.” 
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