The week began with walking Jason and Sara, the two Guinea Hogs, up to the Oakland Zoo‘s Veterinary Care Center to weigh them. Three other interns and I worked to harness them and continue the training we started last week. Two of us were in charge of delivering the reinforcement; in this case it was a variety of chopped produce. The other two held the leash, harness and clicker. It was important the rate of reinforcement was not too low or the Guinea Hogs might lose interest and turn to foraging. When training any animal, especially one that is as large and strong as a Guinea Hog, it is imperative to be alert to your animal. For instance, Sara is afraid of large and loud trucks so we remained aware of our surroundings while leaving the Children’s Zoo. In this week’s intern class on operant conditioning, I learned that escape is a primary reinforcer and permanent associations about something can last for years.
As part of the routine animal husbandry, zoo keeper Alan works with the goats and sheep to trim their hooves. During this week, I got to give out the reinforcement, which was food, to the sheep during the training session. Although the zoo keepers oftentimes use clickers to mark the behavior, Alan whistles instead because he uses both his hands to hold the animal’s leg and to hold the pair of hoof trimmers. The sheep appeared more skittish than the goats about hoof trimming. Alan had them stand on a mat during the training session, and he also worked to desensitize one of the sheep to touching its hind legs in preparation for the actual trimming part.
As I mentioned in my Week 2 blog post, the lemurs get daily enrichment, which I mark on the calendar. String 7 zoo keeper Liz organized the list of possible enrichment into categories, such as manipulative, environmental or sensory. Manipulative enrichment includes putting food into containers with holes so the lemurs have to manipulate the object to retrieve their meal. One day this week, I helped fill plastic PVC connectors with their lunch and straw. After doing a thorough scrub of the lemurs’ night house in the morning, the other interns and I did a little interior designing. We rearranged the “furniture” inside the night house, which is a form of environmental enrichment.
A major part of this week included conducting observations of the lemurs. Depending on the type of observations, the time intervals range from every 30 seconds to every 2 minutes. Usually I pick an easily identifiable lemur to observe while another intern keeps track of the time. The categories on the observation sheet comprise of social behaviors, like huddling with another lemur or being groomed, and also of agnostic behaviors like marking with scent glands or chasing. The observations can be done any time of the day and inform the zoo keepers on how the lemurs interact with enrichment and with each other. The data collected can be used to make ethograms or to determine what percentage of the day a particular lemur does a certain activity.