Clicker Training Goes to the Zoo

As many of you know, I’m part of ORCA (the Organization for Reinforcement Contingencies with Animals) at UNT. Much of what ORCA does is research, training and community service. However, one of our other missions is to educate the public about positive training. We do this at our big annual animal training conference and by giving presentations to community groups and organizations. Last semester, two other ORCA members and I gave a presentation to the university’s pre-vet club. We had a lot of fun getting to chat with the pre-vet students about animal training. One thing we discussed was the huge impact that positive training has had on zoo animals.

Zoo animal care is one area where clicker training and positive reinforcement training have made a huge difference in improving the lives of animals. Many zoos today have comprehensive training programs where keepers and veterinarians train animals to voluntarily participate during many husbandry or medical procedures. This can be from something as basic as training a giraffe to move from one enclosure to the next enclosure to something as complex as training a chimpanzee to sit perfectly still while a veterinarian draws a blood sample.

Before positive training came to zoos, many zoos had to dart or sedate animals for routine procedures such as yearly vaccinations. Or, animals had to be forced to comply when keepers needed them to move between pens, get into travel crates, or perform other tasks.

Clicker training and positive reinforcement training have given zoos tools so that they can teach animals to willingly participate during many tasks. This makes animal care less stressful and safer for both the animals and the keepers. It also greatly improves the care animals receive. Rather than sedating the animal several times a year for veterinary care, keepers can constantly be assessing the health and welfare of their animals.

Below is a short video clip that we showed during our presentation to the pre-vet club. It comes from the North Carolina Zoological Park and shows several keepers interacting with baboons. You’ll see baboons receiving injections, getting their teeth brushed, and much more. Enjoy!

Watch on YouTube Baboons benefit from Operant Conditioning

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