Meet the Newest CZS Behavioral Research Assistant

If you’ve been lucky enough to get out to the Zoo to see Hope and Hudson, our newly introduced polar bear pair, you may have noticed a lone figure watching the bears with a beeping iPad. That lone figure would be me – my name’s Julia and I’m the new behavioral research assistant at Brookfield Zoo!

While I might be the newest member of the research team, I’m not new to animal behavior. In fact, I first began conducting behavioral research as an undergraduate at Butler University where I received my BA in Psychology. As a part of the undergraduate research program at Butler, I spent several days a week collecting observational data on a herd of African elephants living at the Indianapolis Zoo. My lab mates and I then used this data to analyze different aspects of elephant development, behavior, and welfare before presenting our findings at local and international conferences.

Since my days as an undergraduate, I have completed research-based internships at several zoological facilities and have studied numerous species including great apes and bottlenose dolphins. In the summer of 2018, I started my fourth and final internship - which just so happened to be at Brookfield Zoo! As a Chicagoland native, I was thrilled to return to my roots by contributing to a facility that had helped foster my love of wildlife as a child. While working as an intern in the Center for the Science of Animal Care and Welfare, I collected data on the resident red river hogs and investigated how varying enrichment schedules affect their behavior.

Myself (toddler in the pink shirt) with my mother, sisters, aunt, and cousin outside the Big Cats exhibit at Brookfield Zoo in 1998.

At the end of my internship, I was more determined than ever to pursue a career in animal behavior and welfare. In order to take the next step, I applied and was accepted into the University of Exeter’s Animal Behavior Master’s program. While at Exeter I worked with Paignton Zoo to analyze 20 years’ worth of data on Hamadryas baboon behavior. Specifically, I analyzed rates of self-directed behaviors, which are a class of behaviors thought to indicate changes in the stress response. The resulting project made several suggestions that may one day be used to improve baboon welfare.

As the newest member of the team, I am delighted to bring the knowledge and skills I have earned through my MSc and experiences in zoo-based behavioral research back to the Chicago Zoological Society. For my first project, I am monitoring Hope and Hudson for a long-term study investigating the impacts of environmental factors on behavior. So if you’re out at the Zoo and see someone watching the animals by themselves with an iPad, make sure to stop by and say “hi!

Written by Julia Machado, Behavioral Research Assistant

Don't miss the next blog post from the Chicago Zoological Society. Sign up for the Brookfield Zoo email newsletter and receive regular updates and special offers direct to your inbox.

Posted: 5/6/2021 11:26:50 AM by Sean Keeley

CZS & Brookfield Zoo

Since the opening of Brookfield Zoo in 1934, the Chicago Zoological Society has had an international reputation for taking a cutting-edge role in animal care and conservation of the natural world. Learn more about the animals, people, and research that make up CZS here at our blog.


Subscribe to our Blogs!