Hey everyone! I’m McKenzie, and I’m one of our Program Animal Keepers down at the Wieland Wildlife Home. Now that show season is over some of you may wonder what goes on during off-season with all of our program animals. You heard a couple of weeks ago from one of my fellow Program Animal Keepers about how we keep ourselves busy. Well, I’ll tell you that the fun is never over for our animals either!
We do still take animals out on encounters throughout the week, and on the weekends we still do live presentations. We also have education instructors that come and take our animals out to visit schools and other events. Probably the most exciting thing we do a lot of on during the off season is train. During the summer season when we have shows every day, we don’t always have time to work on new behaviors with our animals, but now that we are down to only weekend presentations, we have plenty of time to train throughout the day which helps us prepare for the upcoming season.
Personally I have been going through our Zoo’s training courses. At the level I am at, I had to come up with new behaviors, write the plans for those behaviors, and then train the behaviors. For one of my plans, I decided to target train one of our baby chinchillas, named Gizmo. With target training, you are presenting an object, or target, that you then expect the animal to respond to. With Gizmo, I wanted her to come over to a target pole (a stick with a ping pong ball attached to the end that provides a visual) and touch her nose to the end. I wrote the plan which breaks down the behavior into small steps which are kind of like stepping stones to help us gradually train a behavior, and, once got it approved, the fun began. This particular chinchilla is very social, so training the behavior did not take too long. The challenge came with it being a young, energetic animal. We found that if we did repetitions of the target behavior with breaks in between, Gizmo often got distracted and was not completely interested in the session. We helped that by doing many repetitions one right after another so that her young mind would stay on task. The final step of training is to pass off the behavior to another keeper. I was able to train a fellow keeper how to ask for the target behavior and she was able to get a few successful target repetitions from our little Gizmo. Now this behavior is what we call a maintenance behavior. This means that the behavior has been trained, and we just need to do targeting sessions every few days so the animal remembers how to do the behavior!
Keeper II, Program Animals