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Should we or shouldn’t we train the animals in our collections?

There are two schools of thought on this, first is that our collections are wild animals and should be treated as such with no training for any reason.  Secondly that training takes place and will offer many benefits, especially in the fields of animal welfare and education purposes.

The basic goal of training, simply put, is to improve the welfare of animals.

Good training is to make sure  that  teaching and behavioral  modifications  are intentional, unambigous, and positive  for   both  the trainer and the animal.

I have my own thoughts on the training of the collections, in that it is not just the animal which benefits from training e.g.: being able to be treated in a lot of instances with no need for anaesthetics causing less stress, and is safer in many ways for  the animal.  Moreover it is not only the animal which gains from this but also the keeper!

I have heard that many of the keepers in Romania are afraid of the animals they work with!  – if this is the case then only the very basics of animal husbandry will be carried out by them and this is not a good situation.

For a keeper to lose his/her fear of the animal under their care, they must first and foremost respect the animal – it does not matter if it is a Tiger, a Wolf or a Finch, respect the animal and its needs.  Remember in all walks of life not only with working with animals that respect has to be earned.

This is the first stage and the rest will follow – however I digress!

Any training of the animals should not be done in the presence of visitors to your collections, as it might give the wrong impression.  The training is for the benefit of the animals and is not done to please or entertain the visitor.

So do we train or not?
 
What is training? Broadly put, training can be thought of as teaching. Every single interaction we have with our animals can be a learning experience for that animal, allowing it to modify its behavior to better satisfy its needs. Whether we mean to or not, we are constantly shaping the behavior of our animals.

The main benefits are for the animals the keepers and veterinary staff.  I believe you will have a happier collection of animals if they are trained to do basic things – especially in respect of the vets work.  The keeper will benefit also as it is they that will carry out most of the training and will gain a mutual respect with their animals.

While we indeed benefit from the training provided to animals, they also benefit from:

  • Additional mental stimulation and enrichment
  • Increased exercise and physical activity
  • Improved safety for both the animal and handler
  • Decreased stress, particularly that associated with medical procedures

I hope that keepers do read the newsletters and that eventually they will offer to us all their thoughts and comments together with their suggestions. (on that note, all correspondence will be treated in the strictest confidence and anonymity guaranteed if requested) – so do not be afraid to tell us what you think.

Let us not forget that keepers are the ones at the forefront of the zoos work, quite often under difficult conditions, and their suggestions and comments are invaluable to the work carried out in our zoological establishments not just regarding the animals, but also for themselves.

 

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