Written by: Wilson Chen
Hello, and welcome to the Living Links Blog! My name is Wilson, I am a second-year psychology student at the University of St Andrews. I am currently working in a public engagement with research internship at Living Links. I was interested in an internship at Living Links because I wanted to learn more about the role of monkeys in the study of behaviour and cognition. Moreover, I believe that bridging the gap between psychology research at Living Links and the visitors at Edinburgh Zoo is a meaningful endeavour that can promote and educate the public about psychology as a scientific subject.
Starting a new internship in a zoo can be both exciting and nerve-wracking. I may have been looking forward to this opportunity for a long time, but it can be hard to know what to expect when you’re stepping into a new environment with new people and animals. In this blog post, I will talk about my first impression of the centre and share some of my experiences talking to visitors during my first weekend as an intern.
Originally, I thought the first thing I was likely to notice was the smell. The smell of monkey enclosures can be quite striking, as primates have strong body odour and produce a lot of waste. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how everything is clean and tidy at Living Links. The environment on the main platform (which is where I spend most of my time working) is fantastic. I can get a great view of both the east wing and the west wing enclosures. It can get quite chilly sometimes, especially when the wind picks up, but I am sure the weather will be much more pleasant when spring comes around.
Whether it’s to see the exotic animals or to learn about wildlife conservation efforts, visitors often come with their own expectations and interests, and it is very apparent that most visitors are very engaged with the experience Living Links has to offer. When I approached visitors about doing a visitor feedback survey, many visitors reacted positively. To be completely honest, I thought I was going to get shut down most of the time, but I was happy to be proven wrong. Visitors of all ages can be seen at Living Links, and we see a lot of families. For the children coming with their parents, this could well be their first time learning about scientific research. The Living Links centre could be a great starting point in children’s engagement with scientific inquiry and the nature of science.
While walking around the place asking people to fill in surveys about visitor experiences, I get a lot of opportunities to watch the capuchin monkeys go about their day. As I started to observe them, I began seeing a lot of similarities between their behaviour and human behaviour. Capuchins are social animals that form complex relationships and have a wide range of emotions. Watching them interact with each other can be very fascinating and heart-warming. You may also be struck by how intelligent they are, as you observe them playing, using tools, and communicating with each other in sophisticated ways. One thing that stood out to me is the similarity between the dietary habits of capuchin monkeys and human beings and how they do a lot of the same things as humans. They will remove seeds from food like bell peppers and skin from chickpeas (I noticed they are particularly efficient at this one). Compared to larger mammals who are often seen inhaling entire pieces of food at once, capuchin monkeys are more advanced in their methods of dealing with food.
Perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of interning at Living Links is the opportunity to build an understanding of the monkeys. Obviously, I am not there yet as I can barely recognise a handful of monkeys. But I hope that over time, I will be able to tell them apart, get to know each individual’s unique personality and preferences, and develop a deep appreciation for the complexity and beauty of their lives.
I am looking forward to the rest of my internship at Living Links and I am sure this will be an eye-opening experience.