I recently had the privilege of attending a workshop on Contemporary Animal Training and Management hosted by
Natural Encounters, Inc. in Florida. It was an amazing educational experience, and I honestly can’t stop thinking about it.
The 5 day workshop followed a format that balanced both theoretical presentations and practical hands-on training sessions. Experienced animal trainers and animal behavior scientists were on hand to share their expertise and answer our endless list of questions. I got the opportunity to network with dozens of other zoo professionals, dog trainers, and companion parrot owners. The challenge after any workshop, conference, or seminar that I participate in is applying my new or improved skills with the animals that I work with at the Oakland Zoo. Fortunately, this challenge is the reason I love my job!
You may be wondering why we bother with animal training, who we train, or how we train. Training has been described as the ultimate form of enrichment. The application of enrichment seeks to stimulate our animals both physically and mentally while also empowering them to make their own choices and control their environments. Perhaps that’s a bit of a “wordy” description of the concept. Bottom line is the animal gets to exercise their brain and often their body by doing something…anything really. At the Oakland Zoo, we do all kinds of training with all kinds of animals. Leonard, our male African lion, is trained to place his paw on an x-ray plate and hold still for x-rays. Tiki, one of our Reticulated giraffe, is trained to present her feet for hoof trimmings and acupuncture treatments. Torako, one of our tigers, is trained to position her tail through a hatch so that Zookeepers can safely draw blood from a vein in her tail. The flock of Red-bellied Parrots in our Savannah Aviary exhibit are trained to perch on particular stations so that Zookeepers can examine them daily.
You may be noticing a theme. Many of our training goals seek to empower the animal to willingly and eagerly participate in their own husbandry and medical care. All of these animals have the choice to walk away in the middle of a training session if they want. Ultimately, this allows the animal AND the Zookeeper to function in a low-stress, highly reinforcing tandem. The animal is having fun, and the Zookeeper is having fun!
Thanks for reading! I’ll leave you with some of my favorite pictures from the Contemporary Animal Training and Management workshop.