Placement Perspectives: My year in an Indonesian wildlife centre

The prospect of a year in industry is something that is often a deal-breaker when it comes to course selection for prospective students. Claudia Dyer is a third year student on our Biology with Industrial Experience course and she’s currently halfway through her placement. Whilst some students decide to stay in the UK, Claudia opted to go all the way to Indonesia to work in a wildlife centre. Here, she tells us all about her time in Southeast Asia and how it’s helped her to develop skills that she wouldn’t have otherwise gained

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When I was initially looking for placements, I was adamant that I did not want to work in a lab, that I wanted to do my own project based around animal behaviour, and that I wanted to be as far from the UK as possible. Luckily, I managed to find just the place!

My placement is at Cikananga Wildlife Center, which is situated in the hills of West Java, Indonesia. A rescue centre that cares for and rehabilitates animals that have been rescued from the illegal pet trade, it is also home to conservation breeding projects for a number of Indonesia’s critically endangered animals.

I found the centre through ConservationWise, which have contact with placements for students who really want to learn about what working in conservation is like.

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Living at a wildlife rescue centre in Indonesia is completely different from living in Manchester. There were a lot of things to get used to in the first few weeks such as the different culture, the accommodation(which is on-site), the weather, all the insects and other wildlife, and even the different bathrooms!

I found that immersing myself in this new environment (by eating all the exotic local foods, exploring the neighbouring villages, learning some of the local language, and even being invited to a local wedding) helped me to settle in and make Java my new home from home!

Although I am on the other side of the world, the university has been helpful and supportive while I have been away. My advisor and the placement staff have kept in regular contact to make sure that everything is going smoothly, and are quick to answer any questions I have.

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During my first couple of weeks here, I mainly helped the keepers with the daily animal husbandry, such as preparing food and cleaning cages. There are currently 71 species of animal at the centre, so I have been able to work with a lot of different animals: cockatoos, sun bears, gibbons, and slow loris’, to name just a few!

Whilst I have been at the centre I have also done behavioural observations, assisted with supervising school visits to the centre, helped with animal arrivals and releases, renovated enclosures, and even built new structural enrichment for the animals.

I spend a lot of time working on the enrichment programme, which I enjoy because I have the freedom to make many interesting items for the animals, and I am also responsible for teaching new volunteers and interns about the enrichment programme. The best part is that I can watch all the animals use what I have made them.

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As well as working on the enrichment programme and helping with the day-to-day running of the centre, I am also doing my own project, which is a behavioural enrichment study on the Asian small-clawed otters. The centre currently has two otters, a male called Molly, and a female called Oliver, and another part of my study is to introduce them together and see if this has any effect on their behaviour.

For the enrichment project, I am observing and assessing their behaviour before, during, and after giving them different enrichment items that I have designed for them, and seeing if giving regular enrichment changes and improves their behaviour.

By the end of my project, I will make an enrichment schedule based on which items occupy their time and promote wild behaviours the most. I can be as creative as I want with designing enrichment: I recently made a new puzzle feeder and I am now working on making a slide for them, which I am very excited to put into their enclosure!

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I am working to my own schedule, so it is my responsibility to make sure that I get the work done, and I have needed to be organised and motivated to make sure I am collecting the data I need. I have been able to improve on the skills that I learnt during my first two years at Manchester to design a research proposal, create an ethogram, perform behavioural observations and to statistically analyse my data.

I am now almost halfway through my placement at Cikananga, and I am excited to see what challenges the next five months will bring. I would definitely recommend a placement to anyone who is considering one, it has truly been the best experience of my university career so far and it has allowed me to develop as a person and obtain skills which I would not have been able to gain purely from my academic studies.


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