Training with Fiji
If you have been to the Zoo before and seen a presentation at World of Wild Theater or a Keeper Talk at the tiger training panel, then you probably know that training plays a big role here at Zoo Atlanta. What you may not have realized is that all departments do training with the animals, even the Herpetology Department. Training in the zoo world is a little bit different than training at home with pets. We don’t focus on “tricks,” but instead focus on behaviors that aid in the daily care of our animals – like a behavior we call shifting. When we ask an animal to shift, we are asking for him or her to leave the area they are in and either move into their habitat or to a behind-the-scenes area. This allows us to clean without sharing space with the animal. This is something we do with animals like the Komodo dragon and our cobra species at Scaly Slimy Spectacular.
Recently I have been working with our little Fiji banded iguana to target. That means when I present a target to him (in Fiji’s case a little pole with a red end) he comes to the target and touches it with his mouth. Targeting is a behavior that many different kinds of Zoo animals learn. It is a helpful tool when training other behaviors because it allows keepers to ask an animal to move to a certain spot. Once Fiji “targets,” I reward him with a tiny piece of fruit. Now, Fiji didn’t know right away that when I showed him the target he needed to touch it to get a snack; this is something he had to learn. In the beginning I would show him the target with the food and just have him eat his little banana piece while next to the target. As he was getting comfortable with that he started to associate the target with food. The next step was for him to want to touch the target to get his banana. As he started to learn I was able to increase the distance the Fiji had to move to get to the target to get to his banana.
Now that Fiji knows how to target, I can’t wait to see what we can learn next! Next time you visit Zoo Atlanta be sure to keep an eye out for animal care staff training with the animals. Whether it’s with a tiger or an iguana, it’s always pretty cool to see!
Keeper I, Herpetology