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Science student’s opportunity to walk with the animals

8 September 2021
Science student takes on every opportunity to protect wildlife
Volunteer opportunities and a unique student experience at Sydney’s iconic Taronga Zoo have fueled the dreams for one University of Sydney conservation student.

From a young age Emily Kate Simpson knew the only job she wanted was one where she could work with animals.

As she grew older, Emily came to realise that many of the animals in Australia and across the world that she was so amazed by were under great threat. 

She began to discover the importance of wildlife protection and enrolled in our Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Advanced Studies (Taronga Wildlife Conservation) program to kick start a career in conservation.

“I have always felt a strong connection to the natural world and was thoroughly facinated by the intricacies of animal behaviour and evolution” says Emily.

“That’s why the Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Advanced Studies (Taronga Wildlife Conservation) stoodout to me, as it resonated with a lot of the things I am interested in.

“The curriculum allows me to explore biology and conservation in more detail and also opportunities to investigate politics, history and any other unique interests I may have.”

Being enrolled in our Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Advanced Studies (Taronga Wildlife Conservation) program, Emily is afforded the opportunity to study at a number of locations, including both our Camperdown and Camden campuses, as well as Taronga Zoo, Australia’s largest zoo and home to over 4,000 animals of 350 species. 

Students in the Taronga program have access to unparalleled opportunities to develop skills and expertise in conservation, being taught by dedicated researchers and practitioners from Taronga and leading science academics from the university.

“I’ve loved being able to study at both the university and at Taronga Zoo,” says Emily, who is currently in her third year of the program.

It has allowed me to get to know my cohort on a much deeper level, and I can safely say I have made some lifelong friends along the way.


Reflecting on her studies, Emily notes her enjoyment of the Animal Behaviour unit as a standout feature of the curriculum.

The unit involved her working with classmates to catch male bees on the university oval in order to observe their reproductive function and cluster behaviour as they chased their queen bee.

“Although it resulted in quite significant sunburn, it remains one of my fondest memories,” says Emily.

Emily has since enrolled in the Advanced stream of Animal Behaviour and is currently completing a supervised project using guppies to explore how an organism’s behaviour could change in response to different sex ratios. 

“We focussed on the impact of sex ratios on behaviour, as scientific research on the topic is surprisingly limited, particularly given the wide scope of its implications,” says Emily.

As part of Emily’s undergraduate degree, she gets to study at Taronga Zoo, Australia’s largest zoo located on Sydney Harbour

“For example, many animals rely upon temperature to determine the sex of their offspring, and so because global temperatures are rising, we may have populations become extremely male or female dominated.”

The month long project looked at three different groups of guppies (male biased, female biased and no bias), each composed of eight fish. 

The fish were filmed from above for 45min at a time with the results showing females avoided others at a higher rate in a male biased sex ratio.

Emily suggests that this is likely because that whilst males must compete with others for a female and want to mate with as many as possible, a female only wishes to mate with the absolute best father for her offspring. 

“The female will try desperately to avoid mating with just any old male that comes along,” says Emily,

This research has so far achieved positive preliminary results, so we hope to be able to develop the idea further over the coming semester.”

Outside of university Emily volunteers with The Orangutan Project, an Australian organisation dedicated to ensuring the survival of the orangutan species via fundraising and public awareness campaigns.

Emily’s advice to any budding conservation students is to take the appropriate science courses during high school to help prepare yourself for university and wherever possible undertaker any additional reading on conservation. 

“As long as you are passionate about your chosen subject, you will always find a way to reach your goals,” says Emily.

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