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The Gap Year Blog

Zoochosis - A Study Of Abnormal Behaviours In Zoos

6 Jun 2016 15:20 PM

All images courtesy of Nanna Påskesen

Last summer, Nanna Påskesen spent three months as an Online Media Intern at Frontier’s London Headquarters editing videos to promote Frontier’s projects. A Media and Cultural student with a passion for conservation, Nanna’s enthusiasm for the work Frontier does was clear in the videos she made for them.

Finishing her internship and returning back to school, we were delighted to see Nanna had been able to carry on her love for video editing and animals and was planning to create a film in her final year about abnormal behavior in zoos called Zoochosis. By far a student production, Nanna ran an exceedingly successful Kickstarter campaign that allowed her to fully study the effects of captivity on species with a conservation star-studded interview cast to feature also. Nanna’s video is not only beautifully crafted but truly interesting to watch for anyone that has questioned zoo ethics, or wondered what life was like for animals in captivity.

“I spent three months as an Online Media Intern at Frontier in summer 2013, where I helped writing articles for the blog, develop web content and produce videos for all the amazing projects Frontier has to offer. I have always had a passion to work within the wildlife conservation industry, and my placement at Frontier was a great way to get a foot in the door. I have ever since admired dynamic non-profit organization’s company values, both personal and cultural conquests, so I decided to pursue that passion within my final major project at university. As a Media and Cultural student I combine many different skills, but there was no question that my project had to be a documentary – and about animals.


Inspired by the recent release of ‘Blackfish’, I wanted to look into the abnormal behavior patterns of animals housed in zoos. I have gone to the zoo several times and felt helpless and sad when seeing distressed and bored animals in captivity. Animal species have evolved over many years and their physical, psychological, social and behavioral traits have been developed in order for them to survive as best as they can in a natural environment. In captivity, animal are not always able to fulfill their complete set of naturalistic behaviors and that can cause them to feel stressed in which they start to perform a stereotypic behavior. Repetitive and functionless behaviors are often regarded as an indicator of poor welfare which is studied as a coping mechanism, and measures of stress, that can potentially go on to cause brain dysfunction, and I thought it was something worth looking in to.

Like the study of abnormal behavior, making a documentary, is not as straight forward as it might seem. I needed to get access to vital information, key people and research and for that to happen I needed more than an ‘empty-pocket-student-budget’. In two days I created a Kickstarter Campaign to crowfund the costs of making ‘Zoochosis’. Starting out I asked for £500, and when I reached that goal in just three days, I noticed how important and relevant this study actually was. I then decided to make stretch goals to make the film bigger and better, and ended up having £1440 pledge in just 30 days.


With this amazing budget I was able to make my film into something truly special. In the beginning I found it hard to get zoos to speak about abnormal behaviors, however after some time, I succeeded in getting interviews with three zookeepers. Through the knowledge I had gained at that point, I realized that the study is not as black and white as people might think, so I decided to speak actual scientists, in order to raise my research to a level where people take it seriously, because I have facts and scientific evidence, which is vital for a study like this, as people emotions often comes in the way.

In post-production I worked intensely to create the final piece, that will educate the public about what lies behind the abnormal behaviors we can easily identify, but might not have given a further thought about, or brought a negative judgement upon when visiting the zoo. I definitely found out that the study of stereotypic behavior is extremely complex with many factors that determine the health of a captive animal. ‘Zoochosis’ will bring you the whole picture of how animals experience living in a stressful and unnatural environment, and how it affects their mental and natural life.”

ZOOCHOSIS - A Short Documentary from Nanna Paskesen on Vimeo.

By Maria Sowter and Nanna Påskesen 

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservation, community, teaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!