Training the Animals in Your Life

Zoo

  • New Beginnings

    I've made the cardinal sin of blogging by letting this blog sit unupdated for so long. My thoughts have often turned to this blog but I have purposefully neglected it due to worrying about it being a conflict of interest once I started working back at the Zoo. So, for the last 3.5 years, I've just thought about blog posts that I would like to write but I haven't actually written them. I've thought of picking this blog back up many times but I kept putting it off. In order to continue this blog, I'll need to shift the focus slightly to make it a little bit more of a lifestyle blog that happens to focus on saving animals in the wild since that is what I'm passionate about and want to share with others. 

    Last week, we had our annual Conservation Gala. National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore was the event speaker and I think I was the only person in the tent that had tears streaming down my face during his entire presentation. He spoke about how some of his photos changed entire nation's policy toward their native species. THAT is the kind of thing that I want to make sure keeps happening in the world. 

    Because of that, it's time to pick up where I left off 3.5 years ago and continue to educate about wildlife conservation!

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • The Cost of Working with Animals

    Today's post was inspired by an article written by David Segal for the New York Times. This article is long but it contains a lot of valuable information for those considering becoming a vet. Click here for the full article.

    I think that it is is extremely sad that anyone that wants to work with animals gets paid so little. The cost of becoming a vet is extremely high while the starting salaries are relatively average for the general work force. DVMs are coming out of school with their debt to income ratio at 3:1. That is insane.

    Photo courtesy of wikicommons

    In the article, Segal states that the need for vets is declining in this country. While there are communities that are in desperate need of vets, most of the people in those communities are unable to afford vet care. A vet can see a need in a small, rural community and move there to open a practice, only to find out that the people coming to see them cannot afford to pay. I'm sure that the vet wants to help and offer their services for free, but with student loan debt approaching $300,000, they are not really in a position to do so. This reminds me of the book Water for Elephants, when the main character is left with nothing after his parents die because his dad was a vet and had been accepting vegetables from people's gardens for payment.

    I think there needs to be a total overhaul of all animal related jobs. Choosing to work with animals should not be a financial death sentence. Sure, you can choose not to go to school and try to get a job working at a zoo (not as a vet) but most job postings nowadays specify that a bachelor's degree is preferred and desired. With the amount of competition for all zoo jobs, it might take a while to land a zoo job without a degree. The reality is that most zoo professionals are highly educated, highly skilled individuals. Long gone are the days when zookeepers were all burly men hired only to do physical labor. The zookeeping profession now involves daily animal training, enrichment and behavioural studies as well as knowing the warning signs of animal illnesses.

    If you are able to come out of school with no debt then you can probably survive on these salaries. I know that people with debt still survive on these salaries but they often have credit collectors knocking on their door. Personally, I don't want to just survive, I want to get ahead and therefore had to leave the zoo profession, at least until I get my student loans paid off. People working with animals either need to be paid more or there needs to be more education about not taking out student loans for school. Something has got to change.

  • Saving for a Dream

    I find it slightly comical that there is an EHow.com article for "How to Start an Animal Sanctuary". I truly didn't expect to find that. For me, this is my life long dream and everything that my husband and I do is in preparation for this. 

    Our first step is to live a debt free lifestyle influenced by Dave Ramsey. For us, this means paying off all of our student loans. We still have at least two years until they are paid off and then we will have to start saving to purchase land. It's going to be a long process but I can't imagine doing anything more fulfilling. 

    What about you? Have you ever saved for a dream? 

  • How to Weigh Your Animals with Little Stress

    Weight is often the best indicator of health in an animal. In some species, you will notice a change in their weight way before you notice that they aren't eating as much as they used to. A primary reason for a change in appetite or weight is usually some sort of health issue.

    So how do you weigh a porcupine for example? How do you weigh an 800 pound steer? This is an example of a husbandry behavior. You are training the animal to participate in their own health care so that there is as little stress to them as possible. You want for standing on a scale to become an everyday habit.

    Let's start with the porcupine. This is actually a multi-step process that I am going to speed through. First of all you need a large scale, but even when you have a large scale it is difficult to ensure that the porcupine is all the way on the scale everytime. You need something on the scale that the porcupine can stand on. We have found that a large dog carrier works well. You put the kennel on the scale and ask the porcupine to step into it. Then subtract the weight of the kennel from the weight of the porcupine in the kennel equals weight of porcupine. Obviously you first have to get the porcupine used to going into the kennel before you ever place it on the scale. You can do this by placing its food inside the kennel for several weeks. Don't mess with the kennel once the porcupine is inside. Let it learn that no harm comes to it while it is in the kennel.

    In the image below, the kennel is sitting on the scale and the porcupine is about to crawl into it. 

    You can also train a steer to walk on a large piece of plywood that is placed over a scale. The steer will most likely be afraid of the large dark thing on the ground. First just place the plywood in the enclosure for several days (make sure to give the animal plenty of room to get away if it wants to). After a few days you can start to throw a few bites of bread on the plywood so that the animal has to touch the plywood to eat it. It will start to learn that nothing bad happens when it is near the plywood. Ask the animal to step on the plywood by targeting over the wood. Step by step the steer will learn that nothing bad happens when it steps on the plywood. You can place the scale under the plywood and make it a daily routine to step on the plywood.

    Watch the video below to see an example of scale training.

     

    Scale Training with a Miniature Zebu Steer from Brittany Mead on Vimeo.

    The steer in the video above was terrified of the plywood. It took several weeks for him to even go near it or to go in the stall with it. The video above shows tremendous progress where he is ready for us to place the scale under the plywood and weigh him.

  • Rhino Knockdown

    To continue with out Rhino theme, let's talk about the Rhino knock down that I got to participate in while I was at Fossil Rim. This particular Rhino had stopped eating and he needed a full body work-up to try to determine the cause. This had to be scheduled before the park opened for the day and it required almost everyone on staff to come assist in some way. They used a tranquilizer gun to put him under and then he had his temperature taken, blood drawn, mouth, ears, feet and eyes checked as well as x-rays. Here are some images below. 

    The other Rhinos are concerned at first and all gather at the fence to find out what is going on. 

    It takes a LOT of cable to get electricity way out here

    He is knocked down and the tarp is lifted up to keep the sun off of him so that he does not overheat

    Taking the temperature of a Rhino. How did you think she would take it? 

    His eyes are covered simply to keep the sun out of his eyes

    How many people does it take to roll a Rhino over? 

    It's a good thing that we rolled him over because the problem was found. If you look at the top of his leg (where his armpit would be) you can see a sore. This sore was causing him enough pain that he stopped eating. It's not something that we ever could have seen while he was standing. 

    Treating the wound

    After cleaning the wound and a course of antibiotics he was back to perfect health! 

  • Rhinos

    Did you know that Rhinos have personalities? Each one is distinctly different. In this particular group of Rhinos, there was one that loved to play tag. We would run down the fenceline and he would run as fast as he could to chase you. (Don't worry, we were on the outside of the fence). Then he would run back. The rest of the Rhinos could care less about running. The Rhino below loved to be brushed and scratched. My friend Ashley let me come hang out with them one day. (Note: If you ever get to scratch a big animal like this, make sure that your arms are never between the animal and the bars. They can accidentally lean against the bars and trap your arms)

    Did you know that Rhinos love to be brushed? 

    In the next shot, can you see him bending his back leg kinda like a dog does when they like where you are scratching?

    Sitting down so he can get more scratches

    You keep going, I'm just going to take a nap while you keep scratching.....

    That's the spot, I'll just close my eyes.....

    Slobbery lips

    How about a snack Mom? 

  • Attwater Prairie Chickens

    Have you ever heard of an Attwater Prairie Chicken? Did you know that they are highly endangered? They used to live in the plains of Texas but are almost extinct.

    Fossil Rim Wildlife Center and The Houston Zoo are both trying to save them. There also is a national conservation center outside of Houston, Texas that works to save them.

    Here are some rare photos of baby Attwater Prairie Chickens. Aren't they cute?

    The birds above are pictured in their very safe environment. They have to be kept this way because they are easily frightened and injure themselves when they go into a panic. There could be no loud noises in the prairie chicken rearing area and the keepers had to take special caution when a storm came through. The prairie chickens would start to panic and thrash around until they injured themselves. I remember the keepers being so upset when one prairie chicken somehow ingested a stick that killed him. 

    If the prairie chickens make it to adulthood, the idea is to release them to the refuge outside of Houston. They are making great strides in this area. 

  • Bare Eyed Cockatoos

    Bare Eyed Cockatoos

    This is Pearl and Hobo. Pearl and Hobo are Bare Eyed Cockatoos that I worked with at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. Bare Eyed Cockatoos are originally from Australia and are known for acting clownish and love to interact with their owners. 

    These two cockatoos lived together and it was extremely difficult to tell them apart. We learned to tell them apart by behavior. When you came in to feed in the morning, Pearl was polite and would wait off to the side while cooing 'hello' over and over again. Hobo on the other hand, would be more in your face and was clinging to the door as it opened, ready to jump on your plate of food. You had to be prepared or Hobo would knock the pan of food over. 

    Here is a similar image as above with a closer look at Pearl instead of Hobo. Can you see many physical differences between the two? 

    When you are working with a group of animals, you may learn to distinguish them by behavior before you can distinguish them physically. This is true if you are surveying animals in the wild as well. They all have their own personalities, quirks and habits. 

  • What Is A Husbandry Behavior?

    A husbandry behavior means that the animal is trained to participate in their own health care and well-being. An example of this might be an elephant that is trained to stand against a fence and present the equivalent of their underarm, for blood sampling. Elephants are also sometimes asked to place their feet on a special platform so that keepers can work on their feet and toe nails. You can ask an animal to stand on a scale rather than forcing it onto one. Lions can be trained to open their mouth wide so that a vet can peer into their mouth and check their teeth.

    The purpose of husbandry behaviors is to keep the animal from getting stressed. If the animal is used to crawling on a scale every day then it will not be stressed when you ask it to do the same when the vets need a weight.

  • Ultrasound Training with a Porcupine

    To follow up on the post about stationing, I will fill you in on why we wanted this particular porcupine to crawl to a certain point on the fence. This porcupine lived in an exhibit with a male porcupine and occassionaly she became pregnant. Before this training, we did not have an easy way of monitoring if and when she was pregnant, much less have a way to monitor the development of the baby.

    We began to train her to climb to a certain point on the fence where we had cut out a small portion of the fence so that an ultrasound could be used to examine her belly. The vets could be on the outside of the fence, open the cut away portion of the fence and check her belly while we kept her busy with treats. In this image, you will see me reaching over and touching her belly so that she could get used to it. As the weeks of training went on, she was rewarded for staying on the fence a little bit longer each time.

    Touching her belly to get her used to the feeling so that she will be prepared for an ultrasound.

    Sometimes the male porcupine would interrupt and want a treat too.

    Training this kind of behavior is called a husbandry behavior. The animal is being trained to participate in their own care. This is much less stressful for the animal.

    All of this training was so that we could enjoy little cuties like this one.

    Have you ever heard of ultrasound training a porcupine? Have you ever participated in an endeavor like this one? I would love to hear about it!

  • How to Train Two Animals at Once

    How to Train Two Animals at Once

    If you are working with two animals at the same time, it can be immensely harder to train them. I want to teach you one possible way to work with both animals at the same time. There are other methods, and we can discuss those at a later date, but today we are going to talk about "stationing". 

    In the picture of the North American Porcupine above, you can see that she has climbed on the fence and is hanging there. If you look right past her nose, you can see that there is a yellow, triangle shaped piece of wood that she has climbed to. That yellow, triangle shaped piece of wood is her station

    There is another Porcupine in the exhibit as well. He has been trained to station to a red, square shaped piece of wood. This way, the keepers can hang both of the stations on the fence at seperate areas and ask the animals to "station". They each recognize their station and climb to it. The animals are not rewarded until their noses touch their station. 

    Here is a better view of one of the stations. It is simply a piece of wood with a hook on it. 

    Photos courtesy of Tina Carpenter with Life's A Zoo Photography

    A station can be anything. It can be a rubber mat that you put on the ground, it can be your dog's bed, it can be a particular rug in the house that you ask your dog to go to. 

    These behaviors can also be trained with your dogs at home. I have a friend that asks her dogs to station every night before they get dinner. Each dog goes to an opposite end of the kitchen and sits while she prepares the dog food. She places each bowl in front of the dogs and they are not allowed to eat until she says "ok". (I'm sure that some of you reading this right now think that your dogs can never get to that point, with training, they can)

    So, how do you train your dog to station? First you choose two completely different shaped items. Remember that some animals are color blind so the items need to be very different shapes. Let's go with the example above and pretend you have chosen a triangle and a square. Choose which animal will station to the triangle and put it on the ground (or on the fence if you are training porcupines). When the animal comes to investigate, reward it every time their nose touches the triangle. After a few minutes, put the station away and end the training session. 

    The next day, pull out the station and place it on the ground again. Reward the animal for investigating. Depending on the personality of your dog, you may have to do this for several days until they get used to the item. Begin to say "station" and wait until they touch their station before you reward them. They will begin to associate that word and that action with getting a treat. 

    Eventually you can get your animal to go to its station even if it is on the opposite side of the room. 

    Two last suggestions, don't expect your animal to stay at the station for very long. This is especially difficult if another animal is receiving attention. You will have to praise and reward both animals. Even the animal that is just staying still at his station is performing a behavior that you have asked and deserves a reward. 

    Also, in the initial training phases of getting your dog to learn his station, you may have to separate the dogs while you teach them their stations. Sometimes the dogs get too excited and jump all over each other in competition for treats. 

    There is so much to share about training multiple animals but it will have to be saved for another day. Any questions in the mean time? Let me know if you try this and how it works out. 

  • Video of an Ocelot

    Meet Cotelo. I worked with him at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. He was a beautiful Ocelot with an interesting personality. Did you know that Ocelots live in Texas? They are rarely found here anymore but can sometimes still be spotted. 

  • What is Protected Contact Animal Training?

    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?

  • What is a Bridge?

    Training Terms- Bridge

    In training terms, a bridge is a word or signal used to reward an animal when you cannot immediately give them their physical reward. For example, when a dolphin does a flip in the middle of the pool, the trainer cannot give them their fish right away. To let the dolphin know that they have done a good job, the trainer gives another signal, such as a whistle, to let the animal know that they have succeeded. The animal then knows that they can return to the trainer for their reward.

    This can work the same way with an animal at home. When you ask your dog to roll over, you can use the term "good" to let them know that they have completed the task to your satisfaction. The animal will know that they can return to you for their reward, whether that be a treat or a loving pat.

  • Zoos, Do You Support Them?

    I am of the belief that zoos make great contributions to our society and our world. I see the value of keeping animals for the reasons that I will touch on below. I know that there is a whole other school of thought in which people believe that animals should always remain in the wild. I would love to hear from you in the comments below to find out if you agree or disagree. I also want to point out that my beliefs hold true specifically for accredited zoos. I’m not saying that all unaccredited zoos are bad, but I would have to visit the facility myself before making a judgment on an unaccredited zoo.

     

    I believe zoos are important first and foremost to rescue animals that were injured and could no longer live on their own in the wild. The public often thinks that zoos will only display the best specimens of an animal that they can get their hands on. This is simply not the case. At the facilities that I have worked for I can think of several animals that found a home at the zoo because someone had found them shot or hit by a car or living in a parking lot because they were blind. These animals probably would not have survived on their own. Some of these animals can be re-released, and I am all for doing so when possible, but some need continuous care.

     

    Secondly, zoos participate in species survival plans to ensure the survival of entire species. Zoos focus on the animals that have dwindling populations in the wild and get together to try to help these populations. They ensure proper genetic variability within the captive population and then sometimes are able to release these offspring back into the wild. There are hundreds of examples of a specific wild population of animals being cut off from interacting with others in their species due to habitat fragmentation. This can lead to inbreeding due to a lack of individuals in the area. Zoos can help introduce a new individual, with new genetic material, into this area and help to continue the species.

     

    I also believe that zoos are vital to education. I cannot tell you how many people walked into our goat petting zoo area and asked me what the animals were. People asked if they were dogs or cats, because all they had ever seen was a dog or a cat. People were terrified that the goats would attack or bite them. I am not putting these people down in anyway, but it makes the job of education seem more important when you realize how many people don’t have the slightest concept of the difference between animals. By nature, people fear what they do not know. Teaching people about animals in zoos helps to take some of that fear away.

     

    What do you think? Do you disagree? Let me know in the comments below.

  • Species and Breeds I have Worked With

    1. Boer goats
    2. Afrian pygmy goats
    3. Nigerian dwarf goats
    4. Nubian goats
    5. St. Croix sheep
    6. Babydoll sheep
    7. Domestic rabbits
    8. Dwarf rabbits
    9. Flemish giant rabbits
    10. Chickens and roosters
    11. Cochin chickens
    12. Polish chickens
    13. Jungle fowl
    14. Ocelot
    15. Texas tortoises
    16. African Spurred tortoises
    17. Bare-eyed cockatoos
    18. Molunccan cockatoos
    19. Eclectus parrots
    20. Blue and gold macaws
    21. Chinchillas
    22. African hedgeog
    23. Ferrets
    24. Silky-feathered dove
    25. White-winged dove
    26. Pink headed dove
    27. African grey parrot
    28. Senegal parrot
    29. North American porcupine
    30. Indian runner ducks
    31. Toulouse goose
    32. Rouen duck
    33. Eastern screech owl
    34. American kestrel
    35. Harris hawk
    36. Bald eagle
    37. White tail deer
    38. American turkey
    39. Raccoons
    40. Miniature zebu
    41. Llamas
    42. Guinea hogs
    43. Tarantula
    44. Vinagaroom
    45. Tailless whip scorpion
    46. Red-legged tortoises
    47. Box turtles
    48. Bearded dragons
    49. Black and white tegu
    50. Red tegu
    51. Blue-tongued skink
    52. American alligator juveniles
    53. San Esteban island chuckwalla
    54. Greater plated lizard
    55. American crow
    56. Uromastyx
    57. White's tree frogs
    58. East Asian toad
    59. Houston toad
    60. Hogg Island boa
    61. Ball python
    62. Louisiana pine snake
    63. Milk snake
    64. Prairie kingsnake
    65. Speckled kingsnake
    66. Eastern rat snake
    67. Pancake tortoise
    68. Kenyan sand boa
    69. Glossy snake
    70. Lorikeets
    71. American Quarter-horses
    72. Domestic dog
    73. Domestic cat
  • How Did I Get Here?

    My credibility- If I'm going to write about animals and animal training, I figured I should share with you where I am getting my experience from.

    First of all I have always had a passion for animals and have soaked up every bit of knowledge about them I could get since I was a young girl.

    I attended Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas and graduated with a Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences degree. During my time there I was lucky enough to take lots of interesting classes about animals. A few of these were animal behavior, entomology, ornithology, ichthyology, natural history of the invertebrates, natural history of the vertebrates. Through these classes I got to meet with many interesting professionals in the animal field. For example, one time we got to watch a horse trainer that trains his young horses to sit in his lap while he sits on a bean bag chair. Strange and I can’t see how that turns out well once the horse is more than a few months old and used to sitting on his lap.

    After graduating I participated in the Walt Disney college program and moved to Florida for six months. I got to meet many more animal professionals here and had meetings with several of the animal keepers at Animal Kingdom. I also because an aviary volunteer for the Brevard County Zoo while I was there.

    Immediately after this, I returned to Texas for an internship with Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas. I worked in the Children's Animal Center as an animal caretaker. There was only one other woman who worked with me so I ran the center completely on my own for two days out of every week. The animals I worked with here included goats, parrots, an ocelot, and more (see complete species list). Fossil Rim Wildlife Center is an amazing place where the humans are the ones confined. You get to drive through this huge safari park and have animals poke their heads in your car while you feed them. This was an amazing experience. However, Glen Rose was a little too small of a town for me so next I moved to Houston.

    I worked at the Houston Zoo as a zookeeper in the Children's Zoo. This experience allowed me the opportunity to work with dozens of species. I was responsible for daily care, feeding, diet preparation, enrichment, cleaning and training of animals. I also got to participate in daily outreach stage shows and training demonstrations for the public. In my primary area I was responsible for packing up our animals to go out on educational programs. While at the Houston Zoo, I trained North American Porcupines, a miniature zebu steer and a Nigerian Dwarf goat. Again, refer to my species list for a full list of all species I have worked with. See my Houston Zookeeper bio here. (Keep in mind it uses my maiden name)

    While I loved my job at the zoo, I unfortunately could not stay there forever due to my need to pay off my student loans. My second love, writing and marketing, helped me to find a position with a busy law firm in Houston. I get to learn marketing and event planning while I write about and help to educate others about animals on my blog. I have also volunteered at the Austin Zoo and Houston zoo during various periods.

  • What is Training?

    There are so many different schools of thought when it comes to the subject of animal training. Some people think of training like you would potty train a child while others can only think of circus-like images of a bear riding a tricycle.

    When I mention training I am referring to the capture of a natural animal behavior. For example, a goat naturally raises up on its hind legs before it is going to head-butt another goat in play. When we are able to encourage a goat to rear up on their hind legs with a simple command, this is training.

    Training is used for many different reasons. We can train husbandry behaviors in animals. A husbandry behavior is an action that helps us to medically treat the animal or to care for it in some way. For example, I have trained a porcupine to make her belly available for ultrasounds. As you can imagine, it is very difficult for a vet to work with a porcupine. Having a porcupine that will actively participate in her own treatment is very helpful. Climbing is a natural behavior for porcupines, who spend most of their life high up in the trees. My colleagues and I simply trained the porcupine to climb a fence and stay there. Her soft underbelly was now available to the vets and the ultrasound machine through a hole in the fence that we had previously cut. This allowed us to check on her pregnancies in a way that otherwise would have been impossible.

    Another use for behaviors is for enrichment, or entertainment for the animal. In the wild, most animals spend the majority of their time looking for food. When they live in a zoo environment where their food is provided for them, their daily duties have effectively been eliminated. To keep them from becoming bored we can train them to participate in an interactive session and give them a portion of their daily diet as a reward. Parrots are a good example of this. A trainer can have a variety of verbal cues that they give the parrot and the parrot must perform a specific behavior to receive a reward. The parrot generally enjoys this exchange as it gives them a chance to use their brain in a novel way. Part of their daily diet can be given as rewards throughout the session.

    In my opinion, training is an integral tool in the bonding between an animal and its trainer. The trainer learns to trust the animal and the animal learns to trust the keeper at the same time.

     

     

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. 

Want to get updates by email?

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner