Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Case Study

by Jodi Legge

Erin Bukofsky has always been interested in animals, and she previously worked in an animal care and rehabilitation center. It was there that she became interested in animal behaviors.

“It was fascinating to me to observe how different circumstances affected animals in different ways,” she says. “When I learned about the National Zoo’s internship program, I was very excited. My study question involved the giant anteaters, observing the behavior between the male and the female after the female had finished raising her daughter and was reintroduced to the male.

Giant anteaters
Giant anteaters interacting. (Ann Batdorf /NZP)

“I wanted to find out if they were still interested in each other after being apart, and for the female, the question was whether she would still be interested in the male after giving birth. During this reintroduction, some construction was taking place close to the anteater habitat. It seemed that the loud noises decreased the male and female’s interest in each other and affected their interactions. This added an interesting element to my observations.

“As an intern, my day typically began at 10 a.m., when I would observe the anteaters in their outdoor habitat for several hours. This was usually interesting, but sometimes it would get a little boring, especially if they were inactive and the weather was poor. It was always fascinating to note the behavior of the Zoo visitors as well—they would often stare at me, wondering who I was and what I was doing with my notebook, rather than focusing their attention on the anteater!”

Bukofsky says she really enjoyed her experience at the National Zoo and plans to go back to school to get her master’s degree. She’d like to work as a zoo curator one day, and would also love to find a job where she can continue to study animal behavior.

Read main story: "Behaving Naturally"