Dr Sonya P Hill

Lecturer, Programme Leader for Animal Behaviour & Welfare

I’m an animal behaviour and welfare scientist with particular expertise in exotic wildlife. I began my academic life as a biological anthropologist, and went on to gain valuable field experience with the Jane Goodall Institute in Tanzania, as well as husbandry and research experience in several UK zoos. Following an MPhil at Durham, I gained my PhD from the Department of Veterinary Medicine,University of Cambridge, for work on behavioural and physiological investigations of welfare in gorillas. This involved working within a range of zoos in the UK,Germany and Portugal, as well as the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Austria. I joined Chester’s Department of Biological Sciences full-time in 2014, following a decade spent working as a scientist at Chester Zoo. 

Overview

I have a broad interest in evolutionary approaches to animal behaviour and welfare science, and I specialise in evidence-based management of captive exotic wildlife. I am the research advisor to the European Endangered Species Programme for gorillas, and a member of the Research Committee of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Captive Care Working Party of the Primate Society of Great Britain, and a Trustee of the Jane Goodall Institute UK. I hold professional memberships of the International Society for Applied Ethology, the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour, and the Association of British Wild Animal Keepers. I am an Associate Editor of the ‘Animal Behavior and Welfare’ Specialty Section of the academic journal, Frontiers in Veterinary Science. Outside of work, I am a ‘cellist with the Chester Philharmonic Orchestra.

Teaching

I am the Programme Leader for the BSc in Animal Behaviour and Welfare, and lead and teach on several modules within this degree. I also teach on a range of modules within the Conservation Biology and Animal Behaviour degree programmes. I draw upon my wealth of experience in academia and animal-related industry to bring a “real world” approach to my teaching, with a focus on both scientific and wider employability skills for students. 

Research

I am active in research and supervise BSc, MSc and PhD students. My research interests fit broadly within animal behaviour and welfare science, including: 

  • Social behaviour and development in gorillas
  • Evidence-based management of captive wildlife, including targeted husbandry practices (e.g. assessment of environmental enrichment)
  • Assessment and alleviation of abnormal behaviours, such as regurgitation and reingestion, stereotypies, and hair-/fur-pulling
  • Effects of zoo visitors on animal welfare
 

Recent conference presentations include:

  • Hill, S.P., 2011. Using research as a tool to help BIAZA zoos. In Abstract book of the 13th BIAZA Annual Research Symposium, 6-7 July 2011,BristolZooGardens.
  • Hill, S.P., 2012. An introduction to animal welfare science in zoos. In Abstract book of the 14th Annual BIAZA Research Symposium, 10-11 July 2012. Newquay Zoo Environmental Park /CornwallCollege, Newquay. P. 11.
  • Hill, S.P., 2012. Oh what a pain! Understanding the effects of pain on zoo animal behaviour. In Abstract book of the 14th Annual BIAZA Research Symposium, 10-11 July 2012. Newquay Zoo Environmental Park /CornwallCollege, Newquay. P. 13.
  • Hill, S.P. and Moss, A., 2012. Needing evidence: how do we know if people and animals benefit from getting close? In Abstract book of the 14th Annual BIAZA Research Symposium, 10-11 July 2012. Newquay Zoo Environmental Park /CornwallCollege, Newquay. P. 2.
  • Hosey, G., Brunger, D., Formella, I., Ward, S.W. Melfi, V. and Hill, S.P., 2014. Do zoo visitors cause an increase in wounding aggression in captive chimpanzees and ring-tailed lemurs? In Programme and Abstracts of the 16th Annual BIAZA Research Symposium, 1-2 July 2014.BlairDrummondSafari Park,Stirling.  P. 15.
  • Lherbier, M.L. and Hill, S.P., 2010. The effects of new enclosures on three species of iguana. In M. Fox (ed.), 3rd UK & Ireland Regional Environmental Enrichment Conference Abstract Book, 9-12 May 2010, Marwell Wildlife. Colden Common, Hants: Marwell Wildlife. P. 12.
  • Marsilio, D.L., Hill, S.P., and Waitt, C., 2009. Isolation of added browse and removal of fruit in captive Gorilla diets are associated with reduced regurgitation and reingestion in Western Lowland Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla). In Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation 2nd Annual Symposium: How can we save primates from extinction?, 29 October 2009, Bristol Zoo.Bristol:Bristol,Clifton and West ofEngland Zoological Society Ltd. P. 29.
  • Sandland, K.E.F., Treanor, A.P., Kidd, H. and Hill, S.P., 2014. Does the behaviour of lions and tigers change in relation to presenter talk events? In Programme and Abstracts of the 16th Annual BIAZA Research Symposium, 1-2 July 2014.BlairDrummondSafari Park,Stirling.  P. 16.
  • Simpkin, N. and Hill, S.P., 2013. Hanging around: A study of the visibility, enclosure use and behaviour of Chester Zoo’s Bornean and Sumatran orangutans. In Research Presentation Abstracts: 15th Annual BIAZA Research Symposium, 17-19 July 2013, Wildwood,Herne Bay,Kent. P. 13.
  • Sread, J. and Hill, S.P., 2014. Using research to help with management of the greater one-horned rhinoceros at Chester Zoo. In Programme and Abstracts of the 16th Annual BIAZA Research Symposium, 1-2 July 2014.BlairDrummondSafari Park,Stirling.  P. 30.
  • Stevens, J.M.G., Wind, S., Rediers, J., and Hill, S.P., 2011. Regurgitation and re-ingestion in captive bonobos: a test of hypotheses. In Abstract book of the 13th BIAZA Annual Research Symposium, 6-7 July 2011,BristolZooGardens.
  • Turnock, S. and Hill, S.P., 2012. Using research to help design a jaguar enrichment programme. In Proceedings of the 4th Shape-UK-Ireland Regional Enrichment Conference, 13-16 May 2012,Port Lympne Wild Animal Park,Kent P. 18.

Published work

Hill, S.P., 2009. Do gorillas regurgitate potentially injurious stomach acid during 'regurgitation and reingestion'? Animal Welfare 18 (2): 123-127. 

Hill, S.P. and Broom, D.M., 2009. Measuring Zoo Animal Welfare: Theory and Practice. Zoo Biology 28 (6): 531-544. 

Hosey, G., Hill, S.P. and Lherbier, M.L., 2012. Can zoo records help answer behavioral research questions? The case of the left-handed lemurs (Lemur catta). Zoo Biology: 189-196. 

Maslak, R., Sergiel, A. and Hill, S.P., 2013. Some aspects of locomotory stereotypies in spectacled bears (Tremarctos ornatus) and changes in behavior after relocation and dental treatment. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 8 (5): 335-341. 

Hill, S.P. 2013. Monitoring Adrenal Response in Zoo Animals as an Indicator of Welfare. Chapter 8 Pp. 95-107. In: Handbook of Zoo Research, Guidelines for Conducting Research in Zoos. Bishop, J., Hosey, G. & Plowman, A. (Eds.) 2013. BIAZA, London. 

Hill, S.P. 2013. A Keeper’s Guide to Evaluating Environmental Enrichment Efforts. Chapter 6 Pp. 73-79. In: Handbook of Zoo Research, Guidelines for Conducting Research in Zoos. Bishop, J., Hosey, G. & Plowman, A. (Eds.) 2013. BIAZA, London.

Hosey, G., Melfi, V., Formella, I., Ward, S.J., Tokarski, M., Brunger, D., Brice, S. and Hill, S.P. (2016). Is wounding aggression in zoo-housed chimpanzees and ring-tailed lemurs related to zoo visitor numbers? Zoo Biology DOI: 10.1002/zoo.21277 Link to paper