One of our Elephant Cam viewers asked if our newest elephant calf, Qinisa, knows her name yet. Name recognition depends on the individual animal and the frequency of reinforcement opportunities associated with that name being called and the corresponding correct response. We would then need something to be reinforcing for that animal.
In the case of a baby elephant, we keepers don’t have a lot to offer outside of tactile and visual stimuli. An elephant calf wouldn’t know his or her name until we started associating the name with a reinforcer that we know has established itself as such. So, when a calf starts showing interest in a certain food item, we’ll start calling the calf by name and reinforcing the correct response with that item. It’s usually a nickname that sounds different from that of any other elephant in our herd and one that everyone here can pronounce.
For Qinisa, her nickname is still up for grabs, and we call her a bunch of different names and sounds at the present. Personally, I like “bad baby #12”. 😉
Curtis Lehman is an animal care manager at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, Quick Qinisa Update.