Training

Training is another technique that zookeepers often use to improve the quality of care of mammals in captivity. Although the term "training" probably conjures up images of tigers jumping through hoops of fire or elephants in ornate dress standing on their heads, training for the purpose of management in modern zoological parks has a very different purpose. When an animal caregiver needs to get very close to, touch, or otherwise interact with a mammal, that specimen must be conditioned to allow their presence. Target training is the method by which this conditioning behavior is learned. It can be a simple or complex program depending on the species and the training goal.

The training of mammals in zoos usually involves two techniques. One is the theory of shaping. This involves the immediate reinforcement of a desired behavior with some sort of reward to the animal. When a mammal receives positive reinforcement for a particular behavior, it repeats that behavior. Shaping several small behaviors initially and then forming them into a series, is the method by which a training program is built. A second method often used is target training. In the simplest form a target is used to focus the animal's attention. The target is often a colorful ball on a stick or a colorful card. When an animal touches the target or performs the behavior that is required by the trainer, a bridge occurs. The bridge is a form of non-verbal communication and feedback between trainer and animal. The bridge is usually a whistle, clicker, or other device that makes a sound that is audible to the animal being trained. The bridge is often accompanied by a reward. Therefore, when the animal hears the bridge it knows it has performed the correct behavior and may get a reward. Training in zoos is very helpful for captive management. An animal can be trained to position in a specified area or hold a stationary position. This can allow a zookeeper or veterinarian to perform a physical exam, and collect blood, as well as other medical procedures without the danger of anesthesia.

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