Life in the Zoo: Behavior, Welfare and Enrichment

What makes for a good life in a zoo? For that matter, what makes a good zoo? The psychological and physical wellbeing of the animals? The contribution to research, conservation, and education? The guest experience? Students will learn first-hand how animal welfare science provides an evidence-based approach to optimize and balance each of these demands so that "good welfare is good business." Through a unique experience at San Francisco Zoo students will learn how to apply principles of animal behavior to design environmental enrichments which benefit both the animals and the complex mission of a zoo. Students will be guided through the process of assessing an exhibit from the point of view of the animal's behavior and wellbeing, educational opportunities, and guest experience; developing an enrichment plan; designing and building enrichments for the animals; interacting with the public as docents; and assessing the overall effectiveness of a new enrichment; before finally presenting their work at a "mini-conference." The course will be taught with an emphasis on self-guided learning, student-led class time, hands-on experience, and service-learning. Most days will begin with students presenting what they have learned the previous day to the class, followed by student-led discussion, preparation time for the day's activities, and then time out in the zoo. The course will be taught by Dr. Garner (whose introductory seminar in Animal Behavior is strongly recommended, though not required) and Dr. Watters (Vice President of Animal Wellness and Animal Behavior, San Francisco Zoological Society).

This is one of the most intensive SoCos, as it has historically squeezed the entire class into the first two weeks of Sophomore College. However, the 2019 version will spread the course over most of the three weeks, slowing down the pace and allowing more time for experimentation and reflection.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Joseph Garner

Associate Professor of Comparative Medicine and, by courtesy, of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Stanford University Medical Center

Joseph Garner is an associate professor of Comparative Medicine, and associate professor, by courtesy, of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. He received his doctoral degree in animal behavior at the University of Oxford, Great Britain, conducted his postdoctoral training at UC Davis, and began his faculty career at Purdue University. His research interests include the development of refined methods in behavioral research; abnormal behaviors in animals and their relationships with abnormal behaviors in humans; mouse well-being and enrichment; and the scientific impact of well-being problems in lab animals. His favorite experiments are ones where the animals tell you what's really going on by doing the opposite of what was predicted. He became interested in animal behavior because of its potential to open a window into the experience of the animals that share our world and our lives. He pursued a career in the field because it presents some of the hardest questions and most beautiful answers in science and because of the great potential for animal behavior to improve both the lives of animals and also the lives of humans. He serves on the boards of both animal well-being and human mental health advocacy organizations. None of the animal members of his own family are particularly well behaved, but he prefers them that way.

Jason Watters

Jason Watters is the Vice President of Wellness and Animal Behavior at San Francisco Zoo. There, he leads a research program aimed at studying and applying techniques to ensure that animals thrive. He received his Ph.D in animal behavior from University of California, Davis, where he also performed post-doctoral studies. Watters has fashioned a “non-traditional” research career in the zoo and aquarium world. He has studied numerous species and the foci of his work are animal personalities, behavioral indicators of welfare, a general theory of environmental enrichment and what makes animals good teachers. Dr. Watters serves on the Research and Technology Committee of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and is also the executive editor of the journal Zoo Biology.