Environmental Science Major Jennifer Marshall Conducts Reproductive Studies of Sumatran Tiger at Memphis Zoo

 Jennifer Marshall preparing to take notes as she observes one of the tigers at the Memphis Zoo.

Beth Roberts, a research fellow at the Memphis Zoo whose work involves the reproductive studies of different species, has been in the news lately about a test she developed to predict the due dates of giant pandas. Now, Rhodes environmental science major Jennifer Marshall has the privilege of working with Roberts on studies involving the male and female Sumatran tiger.

“I am monitoring the behavior of these tigers to identify their mating behavior, timing of mating behavior, and if there are environmental correlates for when they will or will not mate,” says Marshall. “In the next year, we hope to take the project a step further and correlate this data with hormone fluctuations.”

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, the Sumatran tiger is critically endangered. “Sumatran tigers of North American Zoological institutes are managed under the ‘Tiger Species Survival Plan’ through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums so as to maintain the genetic integrity of tiger population,” adds Marshall. “Our tigers have been determined to be a good genetic breeding pair and have been recommended for breeding by the management committee.”

A senior at Rhodes and a graduate of Memphis’ White Station High School, Marshall is a member of the research team of Dr. Sarah Boyle, assistant professor of biology at Rhodes. Marshall also has aided in a long-term behavioral study of the three female African elephants and the two hippos as part of this team.

“Jennifer just started working with me this semester,” says Roberts. “But coming to me with experience in both behavior and field studies, thanks to her work with Dr. Boyle and a summer internship, she has been able to spearhead the development of an ethogram and observation protocol for monitoring reproductive behaviors of our Sumatran Tigers while starting to learn the laboratory procedures used to measure hormones in biological samples. She has an infectious positive attitude and so far has been wonderful to work with and mentor. Two qualities that I have observed from all of Dr. Boyle’s students, whom I’ve had the pleasure to work with.”

After graduation, Marshall plans to pursue a career in environmental health and sustainability.