The arrival of heavy rain in San Diego County brought about many changes in animal behavior at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park. Some species enjoyed the change in the weather and became more active, while others took advantage of the shelter provided by well-designed enclosures and large tree canopies within the exhibits.
Our ongoing research also gets rearranged during these inclement days, with more time being spent in the Sensory Ecology Lab catching up on much needed listening and analysis of recent recordings. This isn’t just to avoid getting wet (I’m originally from England and am no stranger to rain!); it’s due to the fact that our study animals simply aren’t as vocal while sheltering. Another reason for pause is that the rain and wind make it really difficult to get good quality recordings of any calls that our animals are still making. Aside from issues of waterproofing our gear, extra noise tends to mask the important characteristics of the vocalizations, such as specific acoustic frequencies that are used in certain behavioral situations. So instead, we’re staying dry and trying to figure out more about our cheetahs, African elephants, and okapis from our recent eavesdropping. These kinds of days also present wonderful opportunities to catch up on notes made during our behavioral observations, especially in relation to information our keepers have shared with us.
As key collaborators in our studies, the animal care staff provide invaluable information about the animals they spend their lives caring for. Not only are they a great source for day-to-day updates of important changes in the social lives of the animals; they are also terrific at offering new points of view that really help us develop the research. So not only do these rainy days help us catch up with our valuable recordings; they also help us to appreciate the essential role our keepers play in helping to develop our studies.
Matt Anderson is a scientist with the San Diego Zoo’s Behavioral Biology Division.
Here are more blogs about the acoustic studies:
Cheetahs: Home Sweet Home