Mixed exhibit management.
Mixed exhibits is not something from today but its being done in zoos for a while now. The beautiful part is when its done right it looks stunningly beautiful. I’ve been to quite some zoos over the time and it is fascinating how and what zoos put together to give a more natural look to an exhibit for the animal and the visitors. Dublin Zoo has some great mixed specie exhibits but so as Borås Djurpark on the west coast of Sweden.
Mixed exhibit are something to go to in the future it looks like because it gives a wilder look to the exhibit but for training and enrichment there are some cons, believe it or not. Yes it is very enriching to have some animals together but we can’t forget that these animals over time get used to each other as well, of course to a certain extend. I do believe it stays enriching for the animals to be in a mixed specie exhibit. Beside that matter managing mixed specie exhibits can be very hard looking at it from a training perspective. Not to talk about nutrition.
At Kolmårdens Djurpark we have 8 mixed specie exhibits what makes everything very challenging for our trainers in the park. Some exhibits are over 5 acres with a big variety of animals all together. Can you imagine if most of these mixed specie exhibits are grazing animals. What means for us trainers they eat all day long so motivating them is very different and enrichment is harder to accomplish. Although to be together is enriching already we have to think what specie needs what kind of nutrition. When we want to do food enrichment this doesn’t make it easier. Even though it is not easy, there is “ALWAYS A WAY” of doing it.
Talking to the animal teams we try to look at who is main priority and who should we train for further behaviours? Now to be honest I like to try things out so there are departments where we just want to challenge our self´s to see what happens when we try new things. I believe that us trainers as animal learn from Trial and Error. I mean the most successful people fell a lot of times! Training is easy at times but finding a structure for an exhibit that’s houses 37 animals and 3 different species is quite a challenge.
When walking through the zoo and brainstorming about the goals we set for the various species from out the management department, there are some clear foundation behaviours we should start with. Call overs/ Recalls for example, we kind off need these behaviours to make the animals come to us. If we do not have animals we can’t train. Simply said start of session signals are a necessity in a mixed exhibit management. One of the strategies we want to have in one of the 8 mixed specie exhibits is having 3 different recalls for all 3 species. What means that if I need 1 specie to come down to another part of the exhibit the rest of the animals (2 other species in the case of the dessert area) should stay. One of our goals there as well is to teach all individuals a strong name recognition (individual start of session signal what has as criteria that only this particular animal should come to us. It is definitely not an easy task but for sure not impossible.
At Kolmårdens Djurpark we try to be inventive and are not afraid to try out new ways of managing our animals. At the hoofstock department they have the most mixed specie exhibits with 300 individuals, not to mention that there are only 12 full timers with around 8 keepers working a day. All these ingredients are maybe not reaching for the success we want but there for we have to think about what we need at the moment from the animals we have. We should not focus on all these 300 animals. I mean it’s a lot of animals to begin with and then to think about the fact that we have 8 keepers, exhibits who are 5 acres or bigger with trainers who sometimes never trained anything before beside their pets. We have to pick and choose…
When managing a mixed specie exhibit something to think about is that we to train the different species on and off cue at the same time. Let me explain this, when we are conditioning the first recall with the first specie (start of session signal if you want to call it that way) you don’t have to reinforce the other species yet now they do not know what it means, but when you start your second signal you want to reinforce the other species for staying on the exhibit. This can have some collisions in the future. I mean when the animals start to discover that particular signals means reinforcement they might interfere with the animals being called over. Its debatable if this is the best strategy now we are talking especially about grazers who eat all day long. Maybe we do not even have to reinforce them for not responding just because they are eating already. As long as they do not understand that the trainer has something better then what they are eating. My idea is to train the animals their mind sets instead of food matter what means that the animals should come to us out of the curiosity what we have for them. This is what makes animals motivated and if done right we don’t have any prediction in our reinforcement. This is the challenge that comes in when we start the second recall signal for another specie.
What do you need after separations is most of the time the question. Well if all animals are able to separate individually it will be great but most of the time the exhibits don’t allow us to. In our Zoo we have some exhibits where it works out well but a lot of them not at all. Therefor name recognition could be a great solution. Another point we should think of is that we need to train the animals to be comfortable being alone especially when they are group animals. We can’t just say “let’s separate them and lets train”. We still have to train step by step that they are separated for longer periods of time. To be trained or to let the other animal(s) being trained.
Teamwork is a necessity and in these cases thinking outside the box as well. Everything is possible and I really believe it will be.
Dare to Try!