Keeper's Diary - August 2009
Recently I have been helping out with some of the animal training programmes in Animal Adventure.
Most of the animals kept in Animal Adventure are trained to some extent so that we can look after them easily and without causing them any stress.
I have recently been involved with the training of some of the smaller animals which live in the ‘Root Zone’, such as the yellow mongoose, meerkats and prairie dogs.
We have recently been box-training the yellow mongoose. Box training involves the animals performing a specific behaviour, in this case entering a carry box for a reward, which are juicy mealworms - a mongoose favourite!
After a few training sessions the animals become more and more comfortable being in their boxes as they realise that there is nothing negative about the experience and that they in fact benefit from the situation as they get to eat their favourite food!
This progression allows us to add extra things to the training such as shutting the door and eventually being able to pick the box up and move it about with them in it.
A lot of animals at ZSL London Zoo are box trained, and it is a good way of moving animals around if we need to take them to a new enclosure or even to the veterinary hospital if they are ill and need treatment. It enables us to transport them without the need to physically restrain them and thereby cause unnecessary stress.
We also need to be able to weigh our animals regularly to check that they are in good condition. This requires training animals such as the meerkats and porcupines to walk onto weighing scales for a reward in a similar fashion to the box training.
The size of the scales and the reward depend on the size and diet of the animal, but the technique works for most species.
The training in the Root Zone is least advanced with the prairie dogs, which aren’t actually dogs at all but are in fact small burrowing rodents from North America.
The prairie dogs are proving to be especially shy and we are currently spending some time each day in their enclosure with them aiming to get them more comfortable with us being in the enclosure and eating near us.
All the training is going well and will hopefully progress quickly.
More next month.