Autism – Late diagnosis, the process and my reaction

Autism

I was diagnosed with high-functioning Autism in 2016, aged 19. Originally referred to as Aspergers Syndrome.

Laura… I think you might be Autistic.

I had no knowledge surrounding Autism. I believed my Therapist had confused me with another patient. 

I succeeded through two nurseries, two mainstream schools (Primary and Secondary), and had recently finished my College life. And not once had the word Autism been mentioned to myself or anybody in my family. A Teacher said to me (after informing her about my referral), “I don’t think you seem Autistic, Laura”.

Sigh.

Increasing numbers of people are beginning to receive an Autism diagnosis later on in life as traits are better recognised and detected. Autism doesn’t end after Childhood. It’s a lifetime diagnosis, where we learn to manage our struggles whilst learning more about ourselves as individuals on the spectrum. I’m amazed that I managed to mask my symptoms for such a long time, considering the inability I had to act in School Drama lessons.

The mutual assumption seemed to be that I was shy, I would “probably” grow out of it with age. I became a favoured student as I just got on with things, paid close attention to minor details in my assignments and didn’t kick up a fuss. I rarely displayed meltdowns in education, but I would (and still do) run away from stressful situations. I held other “typically Autistic” attributes. Such as high sensitivity levels, routine favourability and difficulties maintaining friendships. I particularly despised having supply Teachers taking over due to sickness (for example), as this issued a change in routine and structure.

I’d been working weekly with my Eating Disorder Therapist for a long duration of time. We hit a brick wall in terms of treatment, following the difficulties I had with expressing my feelings and emotions (an essential component in taking therapies!) We tried a collection of techniques together, some of which worked better than others. At one point, we resorted to an “emotions wheel” where I had to point to the word in which I was feeling.

The process

My Therapist contacted Trafford Extended Services (Manchester), following a discussion with myself, my Mum and my Psychiatrist. My Therapist had detected “possibly Autistic” traits in me. Ie: The difficulties I have understanding sarcasm and taking everything literally, the struggles I have with maintaining eye contact and the ways in which I would use laughter to cope. I also found it impossible to tolerate change as it leads to distress and discomfort, which is why my Anorexia remains so complex and difficult to treat. It was then a waiting game.

The waiting game

I ran home every day waiting for the greatly anticipated referral letter to be pushed through the door. And, to my dismay, the wait lasted for 6 months. We attempted to speed up the referral process, but services are stretched and limited, which made this difficult. I became distressed, the wait was agonising and my mental state began quickly deteriorating as I spiralled further into my Depression. I tried to remain humble as I understood others had lengthier waiting periods than I had. I struggled to tolerate with “not knowing”. I had so many questions, and I evolved many unhelpful assumptions about myself and my abilities throughout the waiting process.

The assessment process

I then received an appointment, which involved 2 assessors from the team coming to my home. This simply involved an introduction about the service, the process and a general chat about my life, past and present. There were queries about friendships, family life, my interests and so on.

The assessors (one named Mike, the other… I forget) returned to my house 2 weeks later for an individual discussion with my Mum. I believe this was again, about my personal life, characteristics and such, but I chose not to delve too much into this for Mum’s privacy reasons.

Finally, I was invited to take part in a practical assessment away from home, with a mere 15 minute drive to Barnett House. I engaged in a test called an ADOS test (The Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule). This took place in a small room under the observation of Mike and a lady I hadn’t previously met before, named Cath. I was given a brief explanation regarding the process and had to take part in various tasks to gain an insight into the understanding I have regarding different scenarios and situations.

Further information on ADOS can be reached, here:

I was tasked with reading from two different Children’s books, both containing no words, which heightened the confusion I had surrounding the task at hand. Later on, I understood that the aim of the task was to test my ability to understand and read facial expressions/emotions. To which I completely ignored, as I focused more on the objects and animals on the diagram.

Other tasks included basic demonstrations. I particularly enjoyed choosing random objects from an enclosed bag to proceed with telling my own short story. Of course, my story involved animals (my “special” interest). 

2 weeks later, I was diagnosed with Autism. Mike and Cath came to my house to reveal the findings of the assessments, where I sat anxiously with my Mum waiting for the unknown to become the known. Information of my diagnosis was issued to us extremely casually, almost like “Yes. You have Autism”.

My reaction

I was asked numerous times how I felt after receiving the news. I still struggle to pinpoint this as I felt multiple things all at once.

Relief? So…many…questions. 

Mainly, it was confusion. Numbness.

How exactly do you react to finding out you have a diagnosis you’d been oblivious about up until adulthood?

I struggled for weeks, months and years to accept my Autism diagnosis. I attempted to sugarcoat this in the beginning in a bid to hide my true feelings and thoughts. But I spent a lengthy period focusing on the negatives, using my “new” diagnosis to define myself and coming to terms with what this meant for me.

I learned to come to terms with my Autism diagnosis with the help of weekly appointments with my Autism support worker (Cath, who I mentioned previously) which lasted for approximately 16-months. And with the assistance of attending weekly group sessions (for ten weeks) amongst other newly-diagnosed adults, which covered a range of topics each week and also allowed me to learn more about other people, their experiences and their struggles.

Volunteering – Little Owl Farm

Animals, Work experience/volunteering

Where:

Little Owl Farm, Oldham. Lancashire.

https://m.facebook.com/LittleOwlFarm/#_%23_

When?

February 2017 – Present.

I began volunteering at Little Owl Farm in February, 2017. After an email and 3 bus rides lead me to finding myself at the farm for the first time.

Roles:

My roles at the farm include basic animal care and husbandry (Cleaning out, feeding, grooming), whilst working with a collection of wonderful animal species. Including: Small and large mammals (Goats, Sheep, Donkeys and Rabbits) And birds. I’ve made friends, grown in confidence and expanded on both my knowledge and experience within the animal care industry.

I also enjoy spending quality time with the animals and encouraging them to remain both mentally and physically stimulated through different forms of enrichment. Alongside ensuring they are content and healthy.

Additionally, I enjoy expanding on my knowledge and experience with animal and nature photography. Snapping my farmyard friends brings me joy, and I love picturing animals in that given moment and sharing my images with others.

Chester Zoo 31/05/2019

Animals

I’ve been a regular, proud visitor of Chester Zoo from an early age. I became introduced to the Zoo during fulfilling and memorable family visits as I grew and developed and learned more about a variety of different animal species. I distinctively recall standing in awe, gazing at the towering Giraffes and becoming mesmerised by the Flamingos unmistakable pinkness.

My friend and I headed to the Zoo yesterday. The weather was in our favour, as it remained dry and temperate throughout. Though, I wouldn’t have minded either way. I’ve visited the Zoo in snowy conditions and warmer ones, and all experiences have been a joy!

https://www.chesterzoo.org

I wanted to give an insight into my favourite species. I particularly have a soft spot for Ungulates, which I guess heightens my admiration of Goats…

I particularly favour Chester Zoo. The animals’ enclosures resemble natural environments as closely as possible, and aim to encourage both mental and physical stimulation through enrichment and the exhibiting of natural behaviours. This is important, especially in captivity as it helps to reduce stereotypical and abnormal behaviours, such as: Pacing, head banging, pica (the consumption of non-food items) and bar biting.

Giraffes (Giraffa Camelopardalis)

Place of origin: Africa.

I had the pleasure of seeing the Zoo’s newest, and most beautiful, Giraffe calf’s who stood elegantly at approximately 6 feet tall. Twins: Mburo and Karamoja, and newest arrival Mojo. They were lightly coloured and curious animals, covered in patches that are totally unique like fingerprints. They successfully widened the smile on my face, with being my favourite African mammal. Giraffes are currently near extinction, and the Zoo aims to conserve and protect species for future generations.

Okapis (Okapia Johnstoni)

Place of origin: Southern and Central America, Asia.

The Okapis continue to fascinate me greatly, with a horse like appearance and zebra-like stripes situated on the legs and the behind. Fascinatingly, they’re known as the closest living relative of the Giraffe and they share similar features. Ie: they’re both ungulates and herbivores. This Okapi in particular was enjoying a watermelon slab, before sharing it with the small Deer inhabiting the same enclosure.

Elephants (Loxodonta)

Place of origin: Africa.

The Elephants at Chester Zoo are a related herd, named the hi-way family. Heartbreakingly, two members of the herd have tragically passed away (October, 2018) due to the spread of the lethal EEHV virus, which is known to attack membranes, resulting in bleeding and a fever. Almost all Elephants carry the virus, yet, it only turns into an illness for some. I believe another member, one of the youngest, has also recently been treated for the disease and it currently making a speedy, successful recovery. The herd were being bathed during our visit, as they contentedly soaked up the water and widely opened their mouths, almost like a smile.

Find out more about EEHV here:

Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)

Place of origin: Africa.

Tapir (Tapirus terrestris)

Place of origin: Southern and Central America, Asia and Africa.

During my previous visit to the Zoo, the Tapirs were running around energetically outside. This being when the weather was dramatically colder. This time around, the group were relaxing indoors before one slowly proceeded to wake up. There are 5 species of Tapir, which inhabit forested regions in America and Asia. The youngest individual was easily identifiable amongst the others, due to white markings on the body. The markings are typically present from birth, but fade significantly during development.

 

More of my favourite images:

Second year – Growing, learning and finding acceptance

University

I’ve done it.

This morning I sat my final Exam (Conservation Practice) meaning that I’ve successfully completed my second university year, and what an incredible year it’s been!

I believe that whilst first year was both an enjoyment and a success, my admiration for university life has increased significantly this year as I’ve become more confident as both an individual and an Animal Behaviourist as I’ve been able to expand on my current knowledge of given subject areas, whilst developing new interests, meeting new people and overcoming many, many difficult hurdles. I’ve also learned more about myself as a person, my abilities to overcome my struggles and to pull myself back up after falling.

This academic year became the year I began changing my style, for the better. I’ve never been a typical jeans and branded trainers kind of girl. I became renowned for my snazzy space buns and vibrant rainbow cardigan. Amongst bundles of glitter! Subconsciously, a new and personalised fashion sense signified a new beginning and a brighter outlook on life. I’ve enjoyed being quirky and finding the confidence to wear things that make me smile.

I’m flourishing and I’m growing. I’m on a journey of self discovery and I’m now more motivated than ever to tackle my Anorexia to venture on a journey towards health and happiness. I plan to spend the summer making memories, volunteering and working on and prioritising my physical and mental health and well-being, ready to start third year energised and motivated.

The year began rocky, I became victim to my mind and evolving thoughts of self destruction and relied heavily on harmful coping mechanisms. My first week back consisted of appointments in the councillors office, not your typical Freshers week, and routine appointments with my psychiatric nurse. Thankfully, I managed to remain grounded and focused with the help of my incredible, supportive friends and tutors, as we sailed through the year together and made lots of unforgettable memories along the way.

Second year became the year I found a new passion for the style of Dance, Jazz. I began the year encouraged to try a new class within BU (Bangor University) Dance, and it became a place I felt comfortable straight away, as I grew in confidence and used the class to release the energy I had collected throughout the week. This also enabled me to make new friends, an area which has always proven to be a struggle for me, but I soon began feeling accepted with the people I gladly met along the way.

I also experienced the wonderful and unforgettable opportunity of venturing to Florida for the completion of my field course module. Again, spending time with the most considerate, kind and joyous people whilst making new memories and experiencing new things. I once struggled to leave my bedroom, I exceeded my own expectations and stepped out of my comfort zone massively by flying over 4,000 miles away from home. I now aim to plan future adventures both abroad and within The UK because I want to live, I want to learn and I’m motivated to find happiness.

Second year issued me with valuable life lessons. It helped me to understand that asking for help is okay and that is doesn’t signify failure. I’ve learned that simply being myself is enough, and I’m focusing more on exceeding my own goals and aspirations as opposed to being the missing jigsaw piece in society. I value acceptance from others, but it’s time I begin prioritising acceptance within myself, for myself.

To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.

I’ve spent lots of valuable time with my friends, who I love wholeheartedly. I simply wouldn’t wish to succeed through university without the incredible people I’ve met. Very recently, we visited Foel Farm, I felt incredibly happy and care free, motivated to carry on fighting and to fight even harder to allow me to fully embrace more indelible moments.

I even had my first ice lolly in 6 whole years! I felt super comfortable with my friends and the time felt right. They tucked into ice creams and I opted for a fruit pastel lolly as we were simultaneously driven around on a quad bike tour. I have a vast collection of fear foods to challenge, rules to tackle and rituals to overcome, but I believe in myself and I know each small step I take takes me closer to better things.

Second year has concluded. I’m thankful for the knowledge I’ve gained and for the inspiration I’ve received from my wonderful Lecturers as they’ve taught me valuable life lessons and assisted the expansion of my knowledge. They’ve issued me with hope when all seemed dark and during the times I woefully began losing faith in myself. I truly am blessed to be a student here at Bangor University.

And it’s now time for Summer, where I aim to delve into many adventures whilst focusing on my recovery, health and happiness!

Florida: Day nine and ten 🇱🇷

The Florida Files

Our final day in Florida had rapidly approached, after what had been an incredible, memorable and fun packed venture with the most wonderful group of people who I expect to be friends for life.

The experience left me feeling both blessed and hopeful, whilst remaining optimistic for future experiences abroad. I can’t wait to be back in the field! I’ve carefully begun planning my next adventure, so stay tuned…

While the majority of students were spending the remainder of the time at Vester packing the rest of their belongings, a few of us (myself, Annabel, Georgina and Wynn) headed to Lovers Key with the aspirations of gaining a final manatee sighting. We set off quickly and sat comfortably in the spacious minibus as we soon approached our destination. 

Approximately ten minutes after stepping out of the bus and perching comfortably at the side of the lake, we had the privilege of spotting two stunning manatees within very close proximity of us. The manatee swam elegantly with her calf beside her making noticeable rippled movements in the surrounding waters. 

 To our delight, after a mere 10 minutes spent patiently waiting for manatees to swim within a noticeably proximity of us, we encountered the delightful, memorable experience of viewing both a manatee and her cub swimming elegantly within close viewing distance. Our previous manatee sightings were certainly exceptional, however, viewing the endangered species up close was a truly phenomenal experience.

Above photo for reference, not my image. After filling the boot of the minibus with our belongings, we drove to a nearby shopping mall before approaching Southwest Florida International Airport. We stayed at the mall for roughly 2 hours before beginning our 24 hour journey back home to Bangor. The mall was surrounded with stunning fauna species, alongside ducks and large species of koi fish contentedly inhabiting the surrounding water fountains.

We then drove to Southwest Florida International Airport, proceeding to unload the minibus to make our way into the airport to begin the check in process, ready for our first 3-hour flight to Philadelphia. The flight was speedy, as I wrapped myself comfortably in the blanket provided accompanied by proceeding to watch a collection of inflight movies, including Mamma Mia and Tangled.

After arriving in Philadelphia, we quickly made our way to the gate ready to board our next flight to Manchester. The second flight lasted approximately 9 hours. Then, after arriving in Manchester at roughly 8am, we collected our luggage and approached the coach in preparation for the 2 hour journey to Bangor.

Florida: Day eight 🇺🇸

The Florida Files

The sun was gleaming down on what was set to be the hottest day we had encountered throughout the duration of the Florida trip.

I was still suffering the (often confusing) effects of jet lag gained from both a combination of travelling and a significant different in time zones between The US and The UK. (Five hours!) Fortunately for me, this meant I was awake and ready, prepared to watch the morning sunrise whilst sitting comfortably in the presence of a blue heron (Ardea herodias) a known visual hunter who then proceeded to loudly vocalise before rapidly fleeing the area.

We began driving to Barefoot Beach at 9:45am, excited to reunite with Jimmy to gain a deeper understanding about various shells, following Jimmy’s strong and most upmost passion – Beach-combing.

Beach combing is an activity that consists of an individual combing on the beach and on the intertidal zone, looking for things of value, interest or utility. 

Beach combing made an appearance in Herman Melville’s novel – Omoo, (translated as wanderer) which was published in 1947. A tale about enchanting adventures partaken in the Southern Seas.

Throughout the years, Jimmy had taken up the hobby and had soon become mesmerised by his unique and fascinating findings as he trailed the beach during various points of the day. Although, he joyously announced that he had a preference for early morning, when the beach was quiet and there seemed to be a greater amount of shells and other items for him to keenly collect.

Sea beans, originating from The Caribbean and South America, stand as one of Jimmy’s preferred species to collect amongst the beach. And the Ecuadorian current has started to bring them near the Gulf Of Mexico.

Sea beans are often referred to as drift seeds and can be defined as seeds and fruits that are carried to the ocean by freshwater streams and rivers to then drift within the ocean.

There are also sea hearts which come from the monkey ladder vine that grows in The Amazon Rainforest alongside the Columbus bean, also originating from The Amazon. Sea glass is also an incredible species, known as mermaids tears, which are small fragments of glass that have been washed up, giving them a frostier appearance.

The best known time for beach combing is during times with a low tide and a new moon, or following a storm.

Some species are known to become caught up in wrack lines, meaning they act like a natural packing material. The species are rare and valuable and are often used as currency, or Wompum (The Native term for money).

We then made our way to the beach for the duration of one hour, where we proceeded to scan our open surroundings for unique shells which we had the pleasure of identifying. Successfully, we collected a wide range of items, including corals, shells that resembled cat paws and horn shells.

Whenever we met Jimmy, I became increasingly more enkindled upon hearing stories about his passions and the facts he delivered about species and their fascinating histories.

Florida – Day seven: Part two 🇺🇸

The Florida Files

After the talk we received from Jerry, we were quickly divided into two groups after stepping outside to enable us to carry out two different activities throughout the refuge.

This allowed us to smoothly alternate between the activities we were occupying at the time.

I noticed various resources during my visit at the reserve, even amongst the beach, issuing advice and key information to the public about different issues – including plastic use and its impact on marine life, whilst encouraging people to avoid littering as a method of keeping beaches clean and protecting animals.

The first activity we engaged in was shell collecting to allow us to complete a dichotomous key. We went shell collecting along the secluded beach to enable us to create a factual dichotomous key with a sample size of ten shells per group (working in small groups of three). Dichotomous keys are often used in an assortment of species identifications typically amongst zoologists and biologists.

The shells differed in their size, shape and colour which could serve as indicators to enable us to easily distinguish them all (similar to those carried out in animal behaviour studies) Some shells gathered were small and pointed, whereas others were larger and more rounded.

During the shell collecting activity, we learned the seriousness of taking shells off the beach and the fact it can result in severe punishments in the eyes of the Law. Shells were not to be excluded from the beach as they were closely protected. But Jerry’s licence, aswell as his profession as an educator to people of all ages, enabled us to gain the permission to do so.

Dichotomous key: A tool that allows the user to determine the identity of items in the natural world.

Seine fishing: A method of fishing that employs a fishing net that hangs vertically in the water with its bottom edge held down by weights and its top edge buoyed by floats. 

We became involved in a method of fishing named Seine fishing, where four individuals of the group would stand in the sea with a gigantic net, allowing them to easily encircle a variety of fish species.

The net was then dragged to land, myself and the other students (including teenagers from a local high school) had the job of picking the fish up from out of the net and placing them into an assortment of grey coloured treys.

The process was speedy, as we wanted to limit the number of species’ deaths during the experiment as a result of them remaining out of water for too long.

We categorised the fish to allow us to discover the frequency of the fish we had entangled within the net, with the aims of detecting whether some species appeared to be more abundant in comparison to others.

Throughout the duration of the experiment, we unfortunately experienced a mass of fish moralities due to accompanying reasons such as stress and heat exposure. In scientific research, moralities are expected due to many underlying factors. And the remainder of the fish were luckily freed back into their natural, open environment after the research had been carried out and recorded.

Seine fishing can withstand both pros and cons: It’s an excellent method for catching schools of fish, though the method can quickly become unsustainable if the population of that species cannot withstand it.

Florida – Day seven: Part one 🇺🇸

The Florida Files

We arrived at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, a non profitable organisation located in South-West Florida, at 8:15am. After an hours drive was required to reach our destination.

The Wildlife Refuge is located on Sanibel Island, in the Gulf of Mexico, Southwestern Florida and is compromised of 6400 acres.

We are a nonprofit that financially supports nature conservation, wildlife protection and education efforts for J.N “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel and Captiva Islands in Southwest Florida.

The refuge gained its name after a local cartoonist (Jay Norwood Ding Darling) who prevented the land from being sold which was due to be used for other purposes. The conservationists remained well known for the creation of his duck stamps, essential stamps that have to be purchased in order to enter the refuge.

Jerry (a current volunteer at Ding Darling) presented a factual powerpoint presentation giving an indication into the past and present history of The Wildlife Refuge. The talk was both authentic and inspiring and allowed us to consider the activities we could engage in to better our planet, and to occupy conservation efforts. Jerry also, mercifully, introduced us to his wife – Belinda, who was also a current volunteer at the refuge.

Jay Norwood Darling blocked the sale of the environmentally valuable land on Sanibel Island. Darling also convinced the President at the time (President Truman) to sign an executive order to create the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge rewinding back to 1945. Moreover, the refuge changed the name to ‘JN Ding Darling’ in 1967.

Profits made at the refuge following visitor entrance fees and gift shop purchases, amongst generous public donations, is put towards conservation efforts that are carried out throughout the entirety of Ding Darling. Alas, the refuge alarmingly receives no Government funding, but works entirely to protect species and to encourage the next generations with their creditable efforts and high work ethics.

The Ding Darling Wildlife Society pays for essentials that The US Government fails to prioritise. The money is raised through various fundraising activities, aswell as through the visitor centre.

Carolina Parakeet: This species is the only species of parakeet that lives in The US. However, the species went extinct back in 1939, and the last known species tragically passed away in captivity (Simpsonati Zoo).

Passenger Pigeon: This species passed away in the same cage as the late Carolina Parakeet, though during the sooner date of 1914. Passenger pigeons are reliant on forests to aid their survival, but the species struggled to adapt to changing environmental conditions due to market hunting which wiped out the forests.

Moran and aesthetic nature preservation: John Muir is the President of the Sierra Club, who composed that ‘Nature deserves to exist for its own sake regardless of the degree of usefulness to humans’. The preservation exists and helped to establish The National Park Service in 1916.

Modern environmentalism: The industrial explosion occurring as a result of WW2 added new environmental concerns, which therefore allowed the Environmental Agenda to be expanded in both 1960 and 1970 to begin to include: Atomic weapons testing, fossil fuel issues, air and water pollution and wilderness protection.

The first National Earth Day began in the 1970’s as a result of an establishment of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).

Global concerns have increased over time, due to an expansion of greater technology and communications alongside a better understanding surrounding different concepts and ideas, with previously little information available in relation to them. Environmental events and concerns are now reported Worldwide, therefore we gain an understanding into issues and improvements occurring around The World. The events also reported both locally and regionally.

Environmental issues include: Climate change, energy, biodiversity, human rights, agriculture/food, population, water and consumerism.

The refuge allows visitors to view a vast selection of animals in their natural environment, including 245 bird species which occupy a larger diversity throughout migratory seasons (January-April).

We walked around the refuge, witnessing charismatic red mangroves which gain their distinctive redness due to a lack of oxygen. The mangroves appeared to be home to bird species, including the white ibis perching upon a mangrove branch.

A normal, unharmed, manatee bone typically weighs roughly 2lbs, but with damage, the bone’s weight suffers an increase of a dangerous 6lbs.

We read the tragic story of a glorious manatee named J.Mullett, who became known during her first sighting on March 11th, 1996, whilst understanding the causes of her unfortunate mortality. Mullett first became sighted in Crystal River, FL and was easily identifiable because of the healing wound located behind her head, amongst significant propeller wounds from her mid-tail to tail base.

She also had a pit tag fitted beneath her skin to help locate and identify her.

The case of J.Mullett: Named J as she was found in the month of January, and Mullett, as the location she was found in had the name of ‘Mullett’s Gullett’.

The manatee was released back into the wild (Crystal River) on December 5th 2000, after 2 years of seeking rehabilitation (starting January 2nd 1999) at Lowry Park Zoo for her noted injuries.

Mullett suffered abnormal signs of breakage in her ribs, therefore developing an abnormal growth following an impact with a boat. (Air boats are popularly used throughout The Everglades, despite not being very environmentally or wildlife friendly, to encompass a range of species).

Manatees often appear in areas of human activity, which have big associations with the numbers of declining manatee in The World, often becoming injured from boat propellers, which can cause swelling in the muscles surrounding the tailbone, which negatively impacts the manatees abilities to swim efficiently, and without difficulties.

A necropsy case file revealed the avoidable causes of Mullett’s death. She received multiple strikes from passing by boats in the area she was inhabiting, which caused abnormal bone growth in both her ribs and her skeleton. The findings also informed us that a discarded fishing line was found located in her small intestine and colon, again, highlighting the human impacts upon marine life. The fishing line caused multiple injuries, including internal damage and the blockage of her intestines, which fabricated eating, digesting and defecating difficulties.

Devastatingly, Mullett had given birth to her calf and was said to be nursing her just 6 days before she gruesomely died.

How did J.Mullett die?

  • Watercraft: Collision with hull and/or propeller or any type of watercraft.
  • Crushed/drowned in a floodgate or a canal lock.
  • Perinatal: Death of a newborn manatee less than 5 feet long.
  • Death due to cold weather exposure.
  • Other natural causes: Infection, disease, birth complications, natural accidents or natural events (such as red tide poisoning).
  • Unfortunately, the causes of death have had no success in being determined.

Conservation practice meets Behavioural Ecology – Chimp practical, measuring behaviour and compiling ethograms!

Behaviour Ecology, University

As a component of my Conservation Practice module, we began (much to my fulfilment) learning about the importance of, and the roles, of animal behaviour in conservation.

It’s been a joy to combine my two passions!

Therefore, in order to carry out our own study and to gain a further insight into the area, we headed to Welsh Mountain Zoo where we proceeded to carry out a chimp practical.

Peter (a keeper at the Zoo) gave us a talk about the chimps, their feeding habits and ways in which we could identify each individual, since there are 11 chimps living at the zoo (including males and females) this could’ve been considerably difficult. Some chimps were easy to distinguish, especially Mabel, since she was the oldest of the group, the smallest and had noticeable sexual swelling on her behind.

It was interesting to hear about the chimp’s captive diet, where they are fed a range of vegetables and special primate pellets, alongside fruits occasionally acting as a treat. I believe the prime feeding method used is scatter feeding, which is wonderful at replicating natural feeding habits and encouraging foraging (searching) behaviours. And, of course, limiting boredom and creating both mental and physical stimulation.

The process began by placing ourselves into groups of six, enabling us to work together to compile a list of behaviours and codes which we could implement into our ethograms. Ie: feeding, movement and resting behaviours. The behaviours noted were then coded, so (for example) feeding was listed as FE.

We divided the group into pairs, with one group observing their chosen male chimp, whereas my friend and I studied an easily identifiable female chimp – Katie.

For a duration of one hour we kept our eyes on Katie, closely observing her every move and flinch. To implement accuracy to the study, we ensured we didn’t take our eyes off Katie, as we wanted to avoid missing any behaviours, with one of us engaging in recording duties and the other acting as the source of information in regards to the behaviours being carried out, alongside the times they began and finished. And some behaviours interestingly had a longer duration than others and it was wonderful witnessing Katie using a stick as a tool to aid her foraging behaviour.

During the practical, we noted a range of behaviours. Including perching, feeding, climbing and vocalisations which were noted shortly after being fed, as Katie proudly left the outdoor area, walking back indoors mischievously armed with vegetables.

After an hour, the alarm ringed and it was time to end the experiment, which was a blast to carry out! The information gathered could then be collated into an organised ethogram, preferably in hierarchical order, which can be added to our behaviour reports.

Florida – Day Four 🇺🇸

The Florida Files, University

Beginning the day at 7:45am, we embarked on a 45 minute drive to Corkscrew Swamp, listening to our new favourite American radio station (Bob.fm) along the way, excited to find a range of animal species and to gain a further insight into the work carried out throughout the popular attraction.

Arriving at the swamp, we were quickly divided into two groups, each touring with an experienced volunteer. My group had Sharon – who was approachable, very intelligent and knowledgable.

We were shown the drastic alterations in both human and bird populations over generations with looking at three large scaled maps. Evidently, with an increase in human population, meant the (unfortunate) reduction of bird species. It really was insightful to gain a view into just how negatively the Human population can have such drastic and negative implications on our stunning wildlife.

We walked across the boardwalk, witnessing cypress trees in the near distance and then going on to head on into the cypress trees, with the ability to view them from directly above. Listening to insightful talk of how some species of plants and trees at the swamp have adapted to withstand wildfires. And, additionally, some species can only grow with the assistance of fire – but will die three weeks after the fire has died down.

The walk lasted approximately 3-4 hours, with Sharon sharing her wide range of knowledge as our understanding of the swamp and it’s entailments increased. During the walk, we had the privilege of witnessing a wide diversity of animals in the swamp, which were all stunning and characteristic in their own ways. We noticed alligators, carrying out their camouflaging abilities extremely well as they remained immensely still whilst resembling a log.

The green anole – a Native species in Florida, with noticeably few than the Invasive brown anole. It was in Corkscrew we witnessed our first green anole, after days spent counting handfuls of brown ones.

The Great Egret.

Raccoon.

We then had the option of walking on the boardwalk again, or taking water and soil samples from a nearby location. My friends and I opted for the boardwalk, which seemed to be a refreshing decision as we witnessed more animal species we failed to see the first time around, whilst also viewing a feeding raccoon up close in the habitat of the stunning, tiny hummingbirds.

SPECIES LIST

  • Racoon
  • Great Egret
  • Alligator
  • Ruby throated hummingbird
  • American bittern
  • White ibis
  • Blue heron
  • Blue dragonfly
  • Red bellied tortoise
  • Lampkin
  • Green anole
  • Painted bunting
  • White spotted deer
  • Cardinal bird