Bears at the Woodland Park Zoo enjoy a swim.
View Zoo Photo Gallery. Photos By Mike Siegel

This Classroom’s a Zoo

Classes make use of SPU's neighborhood animal laboratory.


Every 30 seconds, Emily Bowerman’s stopwatch beeps and she responds by scribbling notes on a clipboard. Emily wears a badge that reads, “Seattle Pacific University Biology 3434 Research Student" as she observes Kata and JoJo, a pair of geriatric tigers at the Woodland Park Zoo.

Emily is one of 15 students who took an “Animal Behavior” class that included a quarter-long research project. After 10 hours of observing one animal species, the students presented their findings to Woodland Park staff. The results may encourage exhibit changes, and the project is just one example of how a number of SPU classes from across departments have used the zoo as a second classroom.

Alisa Brossoit, now a graduate headed to veterinary school, studied displays of aggression in the zoo’s 32 Chilean flamingos. She observed that before fighting, flamingos will often puff up their smooth feathers so that their bodies appear twice their normal size. The birds will shove each other or hit their beaks together to make a clattering noise. What surprised Alisa is that the young female flamingos are just as aggressive as the adult males.

Across the zoo from the flamingo exhibit, senior Todd Jacobsen watched the zoo’s four 700-pound female elk. He went multiple times a week for 50-minute intervals or longer.

“It endsĀ up being a lot of standing. A lot of people probably think it’s boring. I didn’t get bored. I really enjoyed it,” he says, adding that he wants to be a wildlife biologist for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Back at the tiger exhibit, Emily watches JoJo stand up from a rock ledge and walk over to drink from a pool of water. She makes more notes on her clipboard, “WK” for “walking” and “DR” for “drinking.”

Kata has moved down to the exhibit’s moat-like pit. From his perch out of sight, he slowly emits a low, rumbling growl. “This project does take a lot of time," Emily says. "But I think now I have a better foundation of how to go about doing research.”





By Senior Beth Douglass, Photos By Mike Siegel

Want more stories about Big Ideas at SPU? Look in our archives.