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MyZoo Kids: Animal Observations Contest

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Calling all junior conservation researchers!

Junior Rangers check camera traps with Paso Pacifico in the Nicaraguan rain forest. Part of their data will help researchers to better understand carnivores such as jaguars and ocelots. Photo courtesy of Paso Pacifico.

What is it like to be a conservation researcher in the field? A big part of studying the behavior of animals is being very patient and waiting a long time (sometimes hours, sometimes days!) for animals to make a move. Researchers chart the behaviors they observe to gather enough data for their scientific investigations.

Field researchers use ethograms to document animal behavior. An ethogram is a chart which displays a list of possible behaviors as well as a timeline. Using an ethogram, researchers can quickly document the minute-by-minute actions and behaviors of an observation subject. Researchers also rely on sketching and drawing, or photography to supplement their notes.

Practicing backyard animal observations is a great way to introduce your kiddos to conservation science. This activity promotes critical thinking, math, curiosity, creativity and most of all, patience!

We want to see your kids’ animal behavior research! (And we have a pretty awesome incentive.)

Enter for a chance to win the grand prize: an overnight zoo campout experience for your kid and their favorite adult on August 1, 2014. Two lucky runners up will receive a zoo animal plush.

All kids ages 2-12 years old are encouraged to enter and parents are encouraged to assist in research and provide expedition snacks and supervision.

How to enter

  • Enter the contest by downloading the ethogram template and printing it out. 
  • Bring the template with you to the zoo, on your next hike or even in your own backyard.
  • Follow the directions on the template to complete the 3-minute ethogram and animal behavior notes. Then draw (or tape a photo) of your animal on the back of the same page. 
  • When you are finished, mail your template to the zoo:
MyZoo Kids c/o Pisto, Woodland Park Zoo, 601 N. 59th Street, Seattle, WA 98103 or drop off at any zoo membership office by June 30, 2014.
See complete rules and guidelines. Entries are due by Friday, June 30, 2014.

These kiddos are checking in on remote cameras which they have helped set up in hopes of catching a glimpse of either a jaguar or an ocelot. Photo courtesy of Paso Pacifico.

Field researchers check a camera trap on the savanna. Photo courtesy of Tarangire Elephant Project.

For young children: Assist younger children by asking questions like “What is the animal doing now?” Help them fill out the ethogram chart and then let them get creative with the drawing portion of the contest.

Hey parents! Help your kids by using a stopwatch or timer to track each stage of the chart. Give kids a “ready, set, go…” to prompt their observations.

Materials you will need 
  • Printed Animal Observations Contest template
  • A good spot to sit and observe your animal
  • Pencil
  • Small camera or drawing pad
  • Stopwatch/cell phone with timer function
  • Envelope and stamp to mail in your entry

Good luck to our junior researchers out there!

Setting up field observations with the help of a video camera. Photo courtesy of Mbeli Bai Gorilla Project.

Thomas Breuer prepares for a field expedition on the bank of the Sangha River.  Photo courtesy of Mbeli Bai Gorilla Project.