Improving Zoo Life for Cheetahs

cheetahDr Tom Quirke is a graduate of the School of BEES. This article, by Anthony King,  first appeared on

A cheetah can hit speeds of over 100 kilometres an hour and visitors to Fota Wildlife Park in Cork can watch them in action. The cheetahs chase after chicken or rabbit meat on a pulley system in runs, which encourages the animals’ natural behaviour.

Irish scientist Dr Thomas Quirke has compared cheetah speeds in Fota and zoos in South Africa and Namibia, with one female breaking the 100km barrier.

He also studied the exploratory behaviour of 112 cheetahs in 88 enclosures in nine zoos – in Ireland, the UK, Canada, Namibia and South Africa. His dedication will help zoos to design and improve enclosures for these big cats.

“It is important that we preserve the fundamental aspects of their behavioural biology when they are kept in captivity,” Quirke explains. He defined exploratory behaviour as scent marking, sniffing objects and exploration of an enclosure.

“For the cheetahs, it is all about gathering information and then leaving information for the next cat,” says Quirke. It is a bit like leaving a post-it note for the next guy, which is important since males and females are territorial.

Encouraging exploration

As part of his PhD thesis research in University College Cork (UCC), Quirke discovered that raised areas in zoo enclosures significantly encourages exploratory behaviours. These could be platforms, mounds, logs or trees with accessible lower branches; they are used for tree scratching, cheek rubbing, sniffing and scent marking.

“It mirrors wild cheetah behaviour, where they use raised areas and ‘play trees’ for scent marking,” says Quirke. Cheetahs are regularly spotted in the Serengeti scent-marking prominent landmarks such as lone trees, rocks and termite mounds.

Now Quirke has provided scientific evidence that simply placing raised areas or objects in enclosures encourages natural exploratory behaviour – and it is not just about scent marking.

Cheetahs are somewhat unusual among big cats in that they hunt during the day and rely heavily on eyesight for hunting. “You could introduce [raised] areas and encourage wild exploratory behaviour. They have quite good vision, and it allows them sit on these platforms and look around the zoo and they get enrichment from that,” says Quirke. This is good for their welfare and emotional well-being.

More successful breeding

Allowing the animals express a fuller array of natural behaviour can assist breeding programmes.  Monitoring such behaviours may help zoo keepers spot when females are more likely to mate successfully, allowing for more breeding in captivity.

There are only around 10,000 cheetahs in the world, most outside protected areas, so zoos would like to keep open the possibility of captive animals being released into the wild.

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TY2015: My week at the Transition Year Programme at BEES

Bermuda Buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae)

Bermuda Buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae)

Bayleigh Hanrahan, Transition Year Student, Gaelcholáiste Luimnigh.

My week at BEES started on Monday Jan 26th and finished on Friday Jan 30th. I found this week to be a great experience and highly enjoyable. There was much to learn throughout the week and there was many fun and exciting activities planned.

My favourite part of this week was the Plant Science lecture led by Prof. Peter Jones on Wednesday morning. I thoroughly enjoyed this lecture because of the enthusiasm of Prof. Jones. I found all of the lecturers to be enthusiastic but he was by far the most enthusiastic.

This one lecture managed to change my mind on Plant Science and I am now looking forward to learning a lot more about it.

Going into the Plant Science lecture I wasn’t very excited as I was not hugely interested in the topic of Plant Science, however this has since changed. Prof. Jones was very well educated on the topic he was lecturing on but also because of his enthusiasm, I found it extremely interesting and also very exciting. This one lecture managed to change my mind on Plant Science and I am now looking forward to learning a lot more about it. This is the reason it was my favourite part of the week. I did not expect to come out of the lecture wanting to learn a lot more on the topic, but I did due to my enjoyment of the lecture.

During the week, all the lecturers were very enthusiastic and well educated and researched on their topics. I found this to be very helpful and I have decided that because of this I would love to come back to BEES in the future. I enjoyed both the lectures and all the practical’s which would not have been things that I have gotten the chance to experience in the past. I really enjoyed my time at BEES and learned a lot of new information and experienced a lot of new programmes while I was here.

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TY2015: A week at BEES

Growth roomWEB

Jack Mcelheron – Ashton School

I have recently completed my week’s work experience at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at University College Cork. I was lucky to get a placement here as the course was fully subscribed very quickly.

I really enjoyed my week here at B.E.E.S and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve also gotten to meet a lot of the lecturers and staff. My favourite lecture was on Bird Ringing with Barry O’Mahoney. I really enjoyed all the parts about animal behaviour and how they interact in different environments.

Another part I enjoyed was Andy Wheeler’s Geology/Geosciences lecture. We got to go outside and examine rocks which were hundreds of millions of years old. It was fascinating to learn about the history of these rocks and where they came from.

The course wasn’t just about biology. We got the chance to meet with the current 4th years and we had the opportunity to ask them questions about not only their current courses and projects but also about life as a student at U.C.C.

We were also given a library tour of U.C.C which I really enjoyed as we got to see some of U.C.C’s oldest books, their oldest dating back to the 1300’s! On the campus tour we learned about the history of U.C.C. I also got the chance to go into the observatory was a very interesting building.

Overall I had a very good week and learned a lot. I’d recommend this course to anyone who has an interest in science and I wish I could come back for another week!


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TY2015: My Experience with BEES

Boole Library

Rachel Harmon

When I first came to BEES I came with the intention of becoming a zoologist but as the week progressed I gained interest in other professions such as marine biology and geology. The course gave me an insight into other courses and I learned more about the opportunities I would have by applying for BEES  in college.

I enjoyed different aspects of the course, one thing I practically enjoyed was the mammal ID practical. I found it fun making different slides using different types of hair such as human hair and bat hair. We made the slides and got to look at them through the microscopes. It was strange looking at all the different patterns that different types of animals had on the strands of hair.

I enjoyed the campus and the library tours and was surprised by the huge library there and the history behind the campus.

I also enjoyed learning about different careers and hearing from the different professions about how the approached the course they took and how they decided the right course for themselves. I enjoyed talking to the students and being able to ask the questions and hearing about the subjects they chose and why they chose the course they picked.

I enjoyed the campus and the library tours and was surprised by the huge library there and the history behind the campus. My favourite part of the campus tour was going to the observatory I also enjoyed seeing the special collection of books they had at the library. In geology we got to look at the different fossils they had at UCC.

One of my favourite lectures was the international science and the plant science. In international science I got to hear about the works of a marine biologist and about the different organisations I can sign up too to volunteer aboard if I choose to take a gap year before entering college and the experience different people had abroad. I enjoyed plant science because I learned more about plants and about how they can communicate with each other and the different things plants can do that animals can’t.

I really enjoyed the course and got to hear more about the different choices I have and the different courses I can take after doing my leaving cert. I learned more about different professions that I would not have had interest in before entering the course

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TY2015: My B.E.E.S Experience

Matthew Manaid – Coláiste an Spioraid Naoimh


Honestly, I would say that my time here in UCC for the BEES course was amazing. It exceeded my expectations and it’s quite sad that we are all coming to the end of a great week of learning, experience, meeting other Transition year students and of course missing school for a whole week.

When I arrived on the first day, I had very little ideas on how the week was going to go and as well as that, I was really shy since I didn’t know anybody at all. Luckily for me, I was with two good friends from my own school so that was really helpful because truthfully, I’m hopeless at making new friends.

On that same day we finally got to meet Emily Goldstein. She was really helpful with our timetables and with showing us where our lectures were being held for the week which was very helpful (though many of us still got lost many times during the week, with me included. UCC is just really big). Emily Goldstein was really nice and helpful, and I was happy to have her as our Course Co-ordinator.

As the week progressed, we experienced a lot, we learned a lot

As the week progressed, we experienced a lot, we learned a lot. We had lectures on topics ranging from zoology to plant science. I enjoyed all my lectures but the ones I particularly enjoyed was the plant science lecture, the library tour and the campus tour. They were very interesting to learn about.

Finally, I would just like to thank UCC, all the lecturers and Emily Goldstein in particular for accommodating all of us Transition Year students for the great opportunity to learn more about the different Natural Sciences. I would definitely recommend this course to next year’s Transition Years.

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TY2015: A “Honey” sweet experience

b11111Michael O Doherty, Christian Brothers College Cork

I have spent the last week at the UCC Bees transition year program learning about the various courses and topics I can go on to study after I complete my leaving cert in 2017. I have been in many lectures and practicals and got a really good idea of what each topic was about. One of my favourite lectures was about bird behaviour given by Barry O Mahony. In the lecture we learned about how birds each have their own unique personalities and how their personality influences their behaviour in the wild. We also learned about bird intelligence and I was very surprised to learn how much smarter birds are than I ever imagined.

There was one other lecture I enjoyed and that was the current science topic lecture given by Dr Emily Goldstein and Tad Kirakowski. In this lecture we learned about invasive species and their effect on a ecosystem. We looked at one particular case on an island in the south pacific where rats and rabbits where introduced by a man and were having a profound effect on the ecosystem. I found it very interesting as I could never understand how something as harmless looking as a rat or rabbit could be so destructive yet after looking into it more it made sense how they disrupted the whole ecosystem.

Overall I really enjoyed my week on the school of bees TY programme and it has really helped me in deciding what careers I would consider in my future.

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TY2015: This Course is the BEES Knees!


Matthew Beecher, Coláiste Chríost Rí

After a tiring week in the School of BEES in UCC I can only be grateful for such a fantastic experience. From the beginning to the end I was highly interested in the lectures, videos, practical work and discussions.
Initially I was slightly anxious in relation to the course but I was immediately at ease when I saw that almost everyone else seemed to be in the same boat as me. I was lucky to have a student from my year on the course too but I tried my best to make conversation with the students who seemed to have nobody. The Introduction began, we got our timetables and general information and looked as interested as possible to put in a good impression. We all sat in a slightly awkward silence when we were asked our expectations for the week ahead.

The introduction was followed by a tour of the campus and then we made our way to our first lecture. Dr Ruth Ramsay gave a gripping talk on marine biology, and we really got a taste of a real life lecture; there was no space for questions, nobody talking or giggling down the back and certainly nobody willing to stop and explain if you didn’t fully understand a subject or topic. The first lecture was followed by a mammal ID practical and a terrestrial Ecology practical, both were very detailed and interesting.
Day 2 kicked off with a Zoology practical and lecture on sea urchins presented by Prof Gavin Burnell. Although the practical didn’t work out (due to some unhappy sea urchins) we learned a lot concerning studies of marine species. The other students on the course seemed to have varied levels of interest but I found that if you give your undivided attention to the topic in hand the time flies by.

people who took interest in these sciences were all in a position just like mine at some stage and it made a college degree look much more feasible for me

Now rather than going through each and every lecture I am going to describe my high point of the week. I must say that the Current Student Q&A was a brilliant point of the course. It was the point that made me really want to go into the school of BEES and just speaking to people without a title like ‘doctor’ or ‘professor’ opened my eyes and made me realise that the people who took interest in these sciences were all in a position just like mine at some stage and it made a college degree look much more feasible for me.

The students we spoke with all understood the ways of the college and had so much helpful information to offer; for example I will certainly be joining as many clubs or societies as possible if I make it to UCC.
I would certainly recommend this course to any readers of this article who are in TY and I’m very thankful for such a phenomenal week.

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TY2015: “Bird brained”

Joyce Barry – Mount Mercy College


On starting the Transition Year course at BEES I had no idea of what I would be learning about. Throughout the week we had a chance to sample every discipline at the School of BEES. I was surprised to find that the range of topics covered stretched farther than I thought.

We were scheduled to do some bird ringing during our week, however inclement weather meant that this couldn’t take place. In lieu of this we had a lecture on bird behaviour, intelligence and bird ‘personality’. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it was by far my favourite part of the week.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it was by far my favourite part of the week.

In a short space of time the myth of birds being ‘bird brained’ was almost completely debunked. We watched clips of birds demonstrating what we would typically call ‘intelligent’ behaviour, ranging from association of colour with reward to pulling levers to release food.

One of the topics discussed was how some birds are fast responders and some are slow responders to their environment. Fast responders will fly around a new area and search all of it, whereas slow responders will perch in one spot and survey the area from there. Fast responders were typically the birds to figure out the lever or colour systems in order to access food.

Fast and slow responders also behaved differently in attack situations. While under attack fast responders always took flight in order to escape, while most times the slow responders froze in order to reduce risk or drawing attention to themselves. I found this extremely interesting as I am intrigued by animal behaviour, and in particular the area of ‘fight, flight or freeze’.

The most fascinating thing about this bird is how it must learn to make these noises.

Although these traits demonstrated a bird’s ability to do more than just sing, a clip of the lyre bird quickly proved that even birdsong is a complex neurological activity. This remarkable bird had a wide range of noises, including the sound of a camera and even a rather convincing chainsaw. The most fascinating thing about this bird is how it must learn to make these noises. As the bird tries to mimic the sound it must listen to the sound it is reproducing, and alter it until it sounds right.

I must admit that before this lecture I was sure I wouldn’t find it remotely interesting; I was certainly proved wrong. I was pleasantly surprised by the scope of the study of animal behaviour, and how many behaviours each individual of each species could demonstrate.

I would strongly recommend this week to any student who thinks they would like to go into the area of science because you never know what you might find an interest it.

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TY2015: My week in ecology

Isabel Tyndall, Blackwater Community School


I didn’t know what to expect when I signed up. I’m not going to talk about everything I’ve done here this past week because I could go on for ages but I will highlight the parts I found especially interesting.

The first thing I really enjoyed was the geology lecture. I know to lots of people that geology sounds painfully dull but I’ve been interested in this topic since I was quite young. We got the lecture from Prof. Andy Wheeler who started off by showing us a slideshow of the different parts of geology and his particular field. He then took us outside to the front of the Butler Building and showed us all the rocks on display. He took us round to each individual rock and told us about it, how old it was, what it’s made from, how it was formed, etc. I loved how each rock had its own story.

My second favourite part was the interactive careers talk. They split us up into little groups and did separate things with us. The group I was in was taken outside by a post grad here at UCC. He explained to us how important it is for us to have an idea of the population of different species in our area, be it grass, trees or animals. He then showed us how to catch little animals in the wild. We gathered some previously laid traps and opened them to find 3 little wood mice. He explained to us how he marks them so if he catches them again he knows he had already done it.

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TY2015: A ‘fantastic week’ at BEES

Juliette Hennessy, Glanmire Community College Cork


As part of 4th year work experience I was accepted to take part in the BEES 4th year course. I was especially looking forward to the experience as I strongly believed I wanted to study zoology in the future to pursue a career in animal welfare and rehabilitation in endangered animals in Australia. This had always been a dream of mine since I have lots of family living in Australia and I also have an Australian passport. This week here at BEES made me realise what amazing resources this school has for people who wish to follow careers in the environmental or zoology disciplines.

Overall I had a fantastic week

The week started off with an introduction to the course where Emily Goldenstein welcomed us all and briefly explained to us what we would be doing throughout the week and where our lectures would be held. We were also given stationary and a timetable to help us make our way round the school. The day then continued with a Marine Biology lecture and two practical’s on terrestrial Ecology and mammals. I also really enjoyed that as it gave us an insight into what students of BEES school lives are like in the Q&A and in the campus and library tour of UCC. We had many interesting lectures throughout the week on birds, plants, careers, media and experiences the programme offers abroad .

Overall I had a fantastic week and would recommend it to anyone who is unsure of what they would like to do in the future or those who are interested in zoology, plant, environmental science and geology.

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