I’ll never forget the response I got from a good friend of mine when I texted and told him that I might take a job training tigers. He told me that training tigers was the definition of crazy and he wished me well for the rest of my short life. I was taken aback at first and then realized that he had no concept of what training tigers in a modern day AZA accredited facility meant.
He was picturing something like this
Image courtesy of Cameron Coup from "Sawdust and Spangles"/Wikimedia/Public Domain
Images like these are what most people grew up seeing in the movies and even sometimes in real life. In parts of the world things like this still take place but this is not the way things are done in present day AZA facilities.
Animal training with dangerous animals is done by protected contact these days. Protected contact means that the trainer and the animal are never in direct contact with one another. There is always a barrier between the animal and the trainer.
For example, when I worked with an Ocelot, there was a series of levers, pulleys and gates that could be raised and lowered to keep us separated from each other at all times. I would lock him out in his yard while I placed his food near his nest box. After I was safely out the locked door, only then would I lift the gate to allow him access to his food. All training conducted was through a chain link fence, also known as fence training. The keeper can stand on one side of the fence and use a target on a long stick to show the animal where it needs to go. The animal can touch the target with their nose or paw through the fence. Treats are then delivered through a long device with a type of claw on the end that holds the meat until the animal takes it.
Elephants and other large or dangerous animals are also trained this way at most zoos. The elephant can reach through large bars with its trunk and the keepers can reach through the bars to give the elephant a bath or give it a pedicure, but the keeper does not go in the actual enclosure with the elephant. This prevents a keeper from accidentally getting crushed against the bars.
Of course there is still risk when working with these animals but the practice of protected contact training helps to greatly reduce the risks.
How about you? Do you still think that training tigers or other large animals is the definition of crazy? Do you use protected contact training at your zoo or wildlife center?
Hi! I'm Brittany and I started this blog to share my love of animals and to try and help save them in the wild.