Street-smart animals: incorporating cognitive behaviour into conservation efforts

Human-induced urbanization, invasive species and land clearing are changing the environment at a far quicker pace than animals are able to adapt. How can animals survive such changes? Cognitive mechanisms, such as associative learning, can play a crucial role in determining how well animals cope with changing environments. Previous work with wild animals shows the incredible potential ‘learning’ could have for long-term conservation; for example, by using taste aversion to train animals not to forage on toxic invasive species or by using visual signals to avoid man-made structures such as roads. Furthermore, new behaviours can be socially learnt in some species; enabling large groups of animals to adopt new behaviours without the need to invest time in training each individual separately. Captive populations commonly benefit from the use of well-established cognitive techniques for management and husbandry purposes, but cognition is generally underutilised in conservation outside captivity. Find out how integrating cognitive mechanisms into conservation strategies offers a new approach that can help animals adapt to fast-changing environments and ensure their survival.

PDF icon Full Abstracts & Agenda (343.88 KB)


  • Graham Martin, Emeritus Professor, School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham: "A sideways look through birds' eyes"
  • Dr Alex Thornton, Associate Professor of Cognitive Evolution, University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus: "Animal cognition in a changing world"
  • Robert Harland, Team Leader of Animal Activities at ZSL London Zoo: "Training a rescue serval"

This event will be chaired by Dr Claudia Martina, Department of Anthropology, UCL & Institute of Zoology, ZSL.

If you're interested in this topic or would like to know more before the event, please read Claudia's blog post "Learning to conserve: what animal cognition can do for conservation".


ZSL Library events

The ZSL Library will be open to ZSL Fellows before the event and will offer a talk at 4.45pm on 'How to make the most of your library', which involves an introduction to ZSL Library & Archives, and the services they offer. Please contact or click here for further information.


Attending this event

  • This Science and Conservation Event is free to attend and booking is not required.
  • Venue: Huxley Lecture Theatre, Main Meeting Rooms, ZSL London Zoo. See map
  • Underground – Camden Town Station; Nearest bus - no. 274
  • Doors open at 5pm for a 6pm start.
  • Seats are allocated on a first-come-first-served basis.
  • A drinks reception for ZSL Fellows and their guests is held from 5 – 5:50pm.  More information on ZSL Fellowship can be found here.




ZSL Wild Science Podcast

We will be creating a podcast relating to this event topic, so be sure to keep an ear out for it in the following months! Listen to more of our award winning ZSL Wild Science podcast episodes hosted by Research Fellow Dr Monni Bohm here.

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