Training the Animals in Your Life


  • Loving It

    Today was an extraordinary day. I was sitting in my third meeting of the day and I actually thought "Wow, what a great day." Who does that?? 

    My first meeting was a departmental meeting where I learned about what is going on with the zoo and found out about the chance to help out with several of our conservation projects that are taking place around the world. 

    Then I went to an AAZK meeting to help plan Bowing for Rhinos. I am going to be the chair of that event this year. So, I get to work with a bunch of people that care as much as I do about saving Rhinos in the wild. 

    After lunch, we had a meeting where some of the keepers came and taught us about animal enrichment. It was all old news for me but it was so fun to be with the rest of my team when they learned about it and I could spend all day talking about animal behavior. 

    After work my department went out for happy hour with our director and CEO to celebrate closing our Gorilla campaign. 

    How amazing was that? Every meeting that I sit in I thouroughly enjoy. I get paid to talk about animals, animal conservation and to brainstorm ways to raise funds for animals. I feel like I am where I was meant to be all along :)

  • Have You Ever Been On A Baby Flamingo Walk?

    Forgive the Blair Witch style filiming. These baby flamingos were hand raised and are learning to live out on exhibit with the other adult flamingos. This video shows their daily walk from their behind-the-scenes enclosure to their outside exhibit so that they can get used to their future home. You can tell these guys are still babies because their feathers just look like grey fuzz right now, they haven't developed that classic pink flamingo color quite yet!

  • Memory and Recognition In A Steer

    Memory and Recognition In A Steer

    The image above is Zamir giving me a "kiss" after almost three years.

    My sweet, sweet boy remembered me! It has been three years since I was his trainer, but the last several times I have visited the Miniature Zebu steer named Zamir that I used to work with, he has showed major signs of remembering me. 

    I have recently returned to The Houston Zoo after working in a law firm for three years. During those three years, the only time I had to visit the Zoo were Saturdays which are the most crowded day of the week. When I would go visit Zamir on Saturdays, I would call his name and sometimes he would look at me. He would swing his head up, his eyes would get big and he would look straight at me. But then he would go back to eating his hay without coming over. I thought this was because I wasn't wearing a zoo uniform and so he no longer recognized me. I should mention that Zamir generally does not let the public reach over the fence and touch him.

    Since returning to the Zoo, I am able to go visit Zamir on Friday evenings after work which are considerably less crowded. A few weeks ago, my husband met me at the Zoo after work on a Friday and we went to visit Zamir. I now work in an office at the Zoo and don't wear a Zoo uniform. Because Zamir had started ignoring me, I wasn't even going to attempt to call out to him until my husband encouraged me to try. I called out his name in the tone that I always used to say it years ago and Zamir swung his head around and looked straight at me as if to say "hey, what's up?" He came straight over and stuck his nose over the fence as if not a day had passed since our last meeting. He let me scratch and pet him for at least twenty minutes. I had to see if he remembered a couple of his old behaviors (shhh don't tell my zookeeper friends!) so I tried "kiss" and "target". He did both right away and kept looking at me as if to say "Where's the bread?" Zamir's rewards are bread or scratches. 

    I thought that maybe this was a one time occurance so I waited two weeks and then went back. I walked up to the fence and called out "Zamiiir" and he immediately swung his head around and stuck his nose over the fence to get to me. He let me scratch under his chin (his favorite spot) and stayed there for at least twenty minutes again. It made my week! I really think it had a lot to do with the fact that it is less crowded. When crowds are around Zamir is unwilling to come towards the fence because he knows that several people will try to touch him. When there are less crowds, he is willing to come over and let me scratch him for a long time because he knows me. It's not the Zoo uniform that he recognizes, it is me. I can't tell you how important those relationships are between an animal and trainer!

    We'll leave off with one of my favorite pictures of Zamir and I from several years ago when I was still his trainer. 

    Zamir giving me a "kiss"

  • How A Zoo Membership Can Save You Money On Kid’s Activities This Summer

    Most zoos, wildlife parks, animal rehab centers and even state parks offer some sort of membership deal. The question is, is the membership worth it?

    I’m here to tell you why it is worth it and how to get your money’s worth.

    1. You and your family get in for free as many times as you want. This means you can run to the zoo for a couple of hours on a Saturday and not force your tired kids to stick it out the whole day to feel like you are getting your money’s worth. Show up at the zoo, see some monkeys, grab a snow cone and head home.

    2. Deep discounts on all educational programs. These programs are far underutilized.  Check out your local zoo, I bet they have ten classes that you don’t even know about. There are mommy-and-me animal programs, overnight animal camps, night-time prowl the zoo safaris, birthday parties with live animals, behind-the-scenes tours, speaker’s series with big names like Jack Hannah, Jeff Corwin and Jane Goodall. All of these can be free or majorly discounted for your kids and family. Your kids will remember these experiences for the rest of their lives and will have no idea that it was almost free.

    Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons

    3. On top of the educational classes, you also get invited to special events. Most zoos have a Halloween spectacular or a Christmas light parade. Some have “member mornings” where you can have breakfast while they bring out cuddly animals for you and your children to touch and take pictures with. There also is probably an annual gala with live animals that you will get invited to. These are super fun and they usually bring out the show-stopping animals at these (such as cheetahs!)

    4. Get your kids connected to nature. Many zoos now have a“nature swap” program that your kids can participate in. Your kids can scour their yard or the local park for nature items to “swap” at the zoo. They get points for these items which can be added up to “purchase” an even cooler item, such as a huge conch shell or a geode. With your membership, you can return to the zoo anytime your kids find an item without having to shell out any cash.

    5. When friends and family come into town and you feel like you need to entertain them, you have a perfect money-saving option right at the zoo. Your family will get in for free and you will get discounts on your friends and families admission. Pack a picnic lunch, pay a minimal amount for guest tickets and enjoy the day.

    A zoo membership has done wonderful things for my family and I hope it does the same for yours.

  • What Makes A Cow A Dairy Cow?

    The other day my husband asked me what makes a cow a "dairy cow" as opposed to a "milk cow" or "meat cow".

    First of all, cows are cows. There are different breeds of cow but they are all the same species. However, there can be very significant differences between breeds that can mean that one breed produces three times as much milk as another, while a different breed grows faster and puts on more muscle than the milk-producing cow ever will, making it a great meat cow.

    The long and the short of it is that the terms "dairy cow" and "meat cow" have been placed on certain breeds simply because they are generally good producers in that area. For example, the Holstein (pictured below) produces large amounts of milk and is typically considered a dairy cow.

    What other questions you got? Throw them at me!


    Image courtesy of wikimedia commons and

  • Pictures with Parrots

    Pictures with Parrots





    The pictures above show my husband and I posing with a Macaw on our recent trip to Key West, Florida. I have to admit that I was completely against paying to have my picture taken with the bird when I first saw the man walking the streets in Key West. My first thought was that the man was exploiting the bird to make a profit and that I have worked with Macaws and couldn't possibly need to pay to spend time with one.

    I was so wrong! A friend of ours was walking with us and coerced us into posing to have our picture taken. The owner of the bird showed us his USDA license and spent at least twenty minutes with us just talking about his birds. I left thinking that these birds actually have a pretty great life compared to most parrots that are just left in a cage all day.

    This man had these parrots extremely well trained, in fact, I've never worked with a macaw (I've worked with four different individuals) that wouldn't try to bite someone at least occasionally. This bird was very calm and gladly sat on our shoulders or our heads. His owner gave him a signal and he knew how to put his beak to your cheek for the photo.

    The man also knew his birds well enough to know that one of his birds liked to be out at night, while the other got agitated at night and did much better during the day. The man would keep each bird out for a couple of hours and then switch it out for some rest.

    With these birds being this man's major source of income he most likely took very good care of them. The fact that the birds get so much socialization and see so much activity in a day has to make for a better life than being stuck in a cage somewhere.

    The man charged $15 for his time (I paid him $20 but probably would have paid him more if I had any more cash on me) and it was well worth it. He is able to educate people about parrots all day.

    I know that there are plenty of people out there that would be completely against something like this but I just wanted to share that you should probably look into something before you judge.

  • Rythmic Ability In A California Sea Lion

    This video is absolutely amazing. While it is enjoyable and comical to watch this sea lion 'dance' to the music, it also is a great finding for modern science and animal behaviorists. Until this study, animal behaviorists have maintained that the only animals that are able to keep a beat are humans and animals capable of voice mimicry. This would include parrots and some other birds. This study shows that other animals are capable of recognizing a beat in music.

    What this says to me is that we have been asking questions of animals that they do not understand. Once this sea lion, named Ronan, was taught to bob its head to one song, it quickly caught on and was able to bob its head to multiple songs with multiple different beats. Sea lions do not grow up learning how to 'dance' from other sea lions, so how can humans expect them to 'dance' without being taught?

    I think that if the people doing these studies can figure out new ways to let the animals know what we are asking of them, that we will quickly find that animals are much smarter than scientists once thought.

    To read more about this study and how it was performed, click here.

  • Not Worth The Risk

    This zoo in Argentina allows its visitors to get up close and personal with all of their animals. There are images of people laying on lions, touching tongues with bears and leaving their toddler with lion cubs. All of these acts are incredibly dangerous and not worth the risk.

    I fully believe in protected contact facilities for all of these animals. Mistakes can happen way too easily such as the recent death of the keeper at the big cat sanctuary in California.

    What do you think? Should guests be allowed to pet large carnivores?

  • Photos of Wild About Dolphins, Key West
    This photo of Wild About Dolphins is courtesy of TripAdvisor

    This Is The Life



    Wow, this is the life, huh? I came across this photo while researching for our upcoming trip to Key West, Florida.I love how happy the dog looks. What an awesome life!

    Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor.

Hi! I'm Brittany and I started this blog because I am fascinated by animal behavior and I wanted to share that love with others. Enjoy!

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