Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here!
Animal trainers at the San Diego Zoo have a key role in making sure animals are happy and healthy. By using several training techniques they can make the animals comfort level much higher and stress level much lower. Establishing a good relationship based on lots of trust is essential to keep the Zoo running smoothly by ensuring the safety of both animal and trainer. Today we met Behavior Husbandry Manager Nicki Boyd who showed us what her job is all about and spoke to us about why animal training is so important.
Education Supervisor, Stephanie Alexander, demonstrated during a surprise visit how she has trained this binturong to climb onto a chair for a treat using positive reinforcement.
Mrs. Boyd, discusses how training animals reduces their stress while increasing their safety and trust in their keepers. Targeting is one type of shaping technique discussed here, that is used to get an animal or body part to a desired position.
Akela, the fennec fox, is demonstrating her training by “stationing”. Stationing is used to give the animal a place to go, or a “mark”, so that the trainer can work with them, harness them, or even do medical procedures. This kind of work, may seem simple but requires patience and persistence.
Francis, the Malayan sun bear is in a new training process at the moment, after moving into a new enclosure. He is being taught several new behaviors such as stationing his paw to a green circle, for a nail trim. Consistency in this training allows him to be comfortable with this procedure.
Mrs. Boyd is using positive reinforcement while training Francis. Positive reinforcement is encouraging an animal’s behavior, for example giving Francis a treat after he stations. This builds trust between animal and trainer, making them feel calm and safe.
Food is a huge motivator in training an animal since it is something that the trainers can easily give and the animals love. However some animals prefer to be reinforced with tactile sensation and socializing.
This item Mrs. Boyd is holding it called a target. This tool is used in training to show an animal where they need to move a part of their body. It can be used to have a hippo reach up to touch their mouth to it thus leaving their mouth open for a quick dental check up. It is a safe and effective way to make things as easy as possible for the animal and trainer.
Robin, Photo Journalist Team
Fall 2012, week two