Galit Frydman, a biological sciences major at Carnegie Mellon University (MCS '08), is analyzing the effect of human contact on elephant stress levels at the Pittsburgh Zoo. By better understanding elephants' physiological response to humans, she hopes to determine whether or not human contact is beneficial to captive populations.
There is much debate within the zoo community about the proper way to handle elephants. Some experts argue that elephants should be handled as little as possible because it raises the animals' stress levels and therefore endangers the lives of the handlers. Others argue that research based on horses and dogs indicates animals may benefit from human contact.
Using a custom made girth attached to an equine heart monitor, Frydman is measuring heart rate — a key sign of stress — in African elephants.
"Galit has actually received grants from the Undergraduate Research Office for several different projects, which is not uncommon for Carnegie Mellon students," said Jessie Ramey, founding director of the URO. "And, like Galit, our students sometimes work on more than one research project at a time."
Frydman is also studying penguins at the zoo to learn more about how they use their sense of smell while under water. And she is assisting in a study of the vocalizations of colobus monkeys.
Frydman is working with Dr. Bill Langbauer, director of Science and Conservation at the Pittsburgh Zoo, and her faculty advisor is Lori Holt, an associate professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon.