Volunteer Vista: Brittany Florkiewicz

By Anna Becker

Most people don’t think of zoos when they think of behavioral research, but the L.A. Zoo Research Department has been up and running since the early 1980s. At any given time, there are researchers in the Zoo conducting long- and short-term studies. Many of these researchers are volunteers who have completed college level research classes with Director of Research Dr. Cathleen Cox, and others are completing Master’s and Doctorate programs at institutions such as UCLA and Occidental College.

“One of my favorite things about being here at the Zoo is getting to know the people who work with the chimpanzees and the community of people here.”

Research Volunteer Brittany Florkiewicz is a primatologist who studies chimpanzee communication. Photo courtesy of Brittany Florkiewicz

If you head up to see the chimpanzees in the morning, there is a good chance you’ll catch a glimpse of a volunteer behind a video camera watching their behavior. Brittany Florkiewicz is a research volunteer at the Zoo, currently working towards her PhD in anthropology at UCLA. She chose the Los Angeles Zoo because it houses one of the largest chimpanzee troops in the nation. Brittany first became interested in primatology due to the complexity of chimpanzee society. “I’m interested in their communication,” she explains, “but more specifically, their facial expressions and gestures. There are so many levels of meaning.” She is collecting footage of communication behaviors for analysis and ultimately a reference database.

“One of my favorite things about being here at the Zoo is getting to know the people who work with them and the community of people here. We all share information and want to improve research.”

We pause as she talks to one of the animal keepers to discuss the latest troop information. As I listen, I realize she has learned more than just their natural histories, but also their personalities, quirks, and family trees. The investment and passion Brittany has for this research is obvious. “I want to help others get into primatology—hopefully I can inspire others.”