Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tiger training in the sunshine

One of the best parts of my job is getting to go to the different areas of the zoo to assist with the zoo's operant conditioning program. Operant conditioning, is a great way to mentally stimulate the animals as well as get them to participate in their own daily health care. Today, the cat keeper and I decided to try a session with Pahstrel, an Amur Tiger, outside on exhibit. Pahstrel was lounging in the sun in the tall grass at the center of her exhibit when we went out into the keeper area, but her ears perked up when she recognized our voices and heard us call for her, and after only a few seconds came over to the fence to begin her session. We do protected contact training with our big cats, meaning there is always a barrier between the trainer and the cats. As an added safety measure, we also use tongs to feed the training treats to the big cats. Even though they look cuddly and cute, these animals are wild, and would not hesitate to grab a finger or arm if the opportunity arose. Pahstrel was very eager and participated well for the session, putting her paws on the mesh when asked, as well as sitting and standing on her back legs on command. We kept it simple as she had not previously trained outside and was a bit distracted by the noises of the zoo getting ready to open for the day. At the end of the session, she returned to her spot in the middle of the exhibit to soak up the sunshine while it lasted.

No comments: