Chasetown High School (1997 – 2004), University of Wales, Aberystwyth (2004 – 2007), Nottingham Trent University (2012 – 2013 and 2015 to present)
BSc Animal Behaviour, MSc Endangered Species Recovery and Conservation
University of Nottingham (Research Assistant), Lichfield District Council (Park Ranger and prior to that as a Lifeguard) and numerous bar and waitress jobs
Nottingham Trent University
Favourite thing to do in my job Speaking to others about how totally awesome elephants are, and making them realise just how important research is to make sure we know what our zoo animals want and need, so that we can truly pamper them!
I am an enthusiastic and positive thinking PhD student who gets to spend all her time looking at elephants!
I am a 30 year old PhD student based at Nottingham Trent University. I live at home with my Mom, sister, two dogs and a cat. Because life shouldn’t be about all work and no play I make sure I have a nice and varied social life and I cram my spare time full! I am a runner (progressing into longer distances – I have my first marathon booked for September this year!) and an open water swimmer (if you have never tried it, then do, it is really cool and there are loads of fantastic clubs around the country that enable you to swim safely!). Nothing beats running along country trails or diving into a nice lake in the middle of summer. At the moment, other than elephants, the thing that is occupying most of my time is a new parkrun – a team of friends and I were lucky enough to set up a parkrun over Cannock Chase (a gorgeous forested area in the Midlands).
If you do want to read a bit more about me then I have a blog which can be accessed here: https://animalbehaviourresearch.wordpress.com/. Unfortunately, I don’t get chance to update it as frequently as I would like but it does come with lots of nice elephant pictures!
Me swimming in the English Channel! Look closely bottom right – that is my arm!
At the end of Birmingham Half marathon – combining business and pleasure – running as an elephant!
Being all busy and important at Cannock Chase parkrun!
I am looking at whether elephants have BFFs, and if they do, how do they choose them!
I have just started the third year of my PhD which is basically a big research project looking at how elephants interact with each other – whether they have a favourite elephant, and if they do how they choose them. Elephants are quite touchy-feely and they use their trunks (as well as a real range of sounds) to communicate with each other. Unfortunately, as humans, we can’t hear the majority of sounds produced by elephants so I am purely looking at how they behave – who they spend most of their time stood next to, who they share their food with and with whom they spend most time physically interacting (usually touching each other with trunks). I am then taking this information to produce diagrams which show whether or not elephants have best buddies, and if they do, have they chosen them because they are related (maybe sisters or parents-children), because they have known each other a long time, or simply because they have similar personalities. Once my PhD is finished I hope the information can be used to help zoos to predict which elephants would get on best, and to help make sure that we keep them in groups where they are most relaxed and comfortable 🙂
Tembo and Zola
My Typical Day
Watching hours of video footage!
For the last 12 months I have been extremely lucky – I have been travelling around seven zoos and safari parks in the UK and Ireland watching elephants. Whilst I have been at the zoos I have stood and watched the elephants and recorded what they are doing (rolling in mud, having play fights with their pals but most frequently eating!) but I also installed video cameras so I could see what the elephants were doing 24 hours a day for the 5 days per month that I was there. I finished jetting around the country in December last year so my average day now consists of getting into the office, making myself a huge cup of coffee and settling down to watch all the videos I gathered. I write down what each elephant is doing every 30 seconds so it is a time consuming job. At last count it was about 500 hours of footage so it might take me a while!!
What I'd do with the money
Create a short film showing elephants in the wild and in UK and Irish zoos to be played to schools, colleges or community groups which will then be followed with an in-class or online live debate
If I were to win the money I would like to use it to bring wild elephants and elephants in zoos to the small screen! I think that in order to have strong and valuable opinions then people, young and old, must be provided with information on which to base their thoughts. I would use the money to create a short film which consisted of video clips of elephants, interviews with elephant researchers in the wild and in zoos, and zoo keepers. The aim of the video would be to provide information on what sort of things elephants get up to in the wild and what they do in zoos, and also to give an overview of how elephants are being cared for in the wild and in zoos. Initially this would be available to all schools who have expressed an interest by taking part in the ‘I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here’ programme and then it would be made available to all schools, colleges and community groups in the UK and Ireland. There is a lot of different opinions as to whether or not elephants should be housed in zoos so following the video I would encourage the groups to engage in a short debate on whether or not they believe elephants should be housed in zoos, and why. These debates could be either within the class or as part of an online forum, for which I would create a number of dates throughout the year for groups to ‘book on’. The output from this project would be an increased knowledge of how elephants behave, an appreciation of the value of scientific research and the opportunity to learn how to present your opinion to others.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Bubbly, enthusiastic, determined
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Helping to create a means of assessing welfare of elephants in zoos – that basically means that from watching what elephants do during their day we can see how happy (or not) they are in their environment
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
Spending time with animals from a young age – my interest in specifically wild animal behaviour developed after I went on a safari holiday in Kenya
Were you ever in trouble at school?
I tried not to get into trouble, but the lines ‘Ellen is quite talkative and can become easily distracted’ featured heavily on my reports… pretty much the same today!
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
I used to work in marketing and events management at my local park – I would likely still be doing that :)
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Tough choice – I really don’t know!
What's your favourite food?
Pizza, pizza only ever improves life!
What is the most fun thing you've done?
I like to think my life is full of adventures… and when I was trying to answer this question I realised I am a bit of an adrenaline junkie! Top few are throwing myself out of a plane at 10’000ft, horse riding at break neck speeds along a beach (I don’t ride!!) and spending time in South Africa working with sick and injured wildlife, but the most impressive was swimming the length of Lake Windermere (all 10.6 miles of it!)
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To be happy and healthy, to run like Mo Farah, to be lucky enough to get a job I love as much as I love my PhD when I eventually have to become ‘a proper adult’
Tell us a joke.
I have two and I couldn’t choose my favourite! 1. I went to a zoo, but they only had a dog. It was a shih tzu! 2. What did the grape say when the elephant stood on it? Nothing, it just let out a little wine!
I said earlier I was a very lucky researcher … here is the picture proof 🙂 My office for the last 12 months was simply ‘my study zoos’ – here are some of my elephants!
Sundara and her one month old calf Indali
Ashanti having a jolly good mud bath!
L to R: Thi, Auyu, Sithami and Nandita
Ashanti, Juba, Nala and Tots… apparently leaving… maybe it was something I said?!