I am a dreamer. I have been ever since I was a child. My mother is an amazing lady that supported myself and my siblings to the fullest in everything we want to do, although she is realistic, she never once told me I couldn’t achieve the things I wanted.
The question of why we do what we do is a common thought that I have. I have spoken to many people who have had a major impact within the zoological community and with their conservation efforts. People like Dr. Grey Stafford, Julie Scardina, and advocates like Carolyn Hennesy. These people were once dreamers, starting somewhere and they had to find a voice and they had to take action they stepped out of their dreams. We love to train our animals and we love to interact and see a reflection of the relationship we have, but animal training is not just about efficiency or to give the animal a better health or physical and mental stimulation.
We need to become the advocates for our animals wild counterparts. We need to inspire this and the next generation to care about wildlife and our planet. We are going into earths 6th mass extinction, a “biological annihilation” of wildlife in recent decades means a sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history is under way and is more severe. Species are becoming extinct at a significantly faster rate than before. We can change this but we have to stand together and start a revolution to save species. We need to start making our dreams reality and ask ourselves why do we do what we do? Let’s change the attitude of saying we don’t have time for training or training is not natural.
Animal Training Can Save the World!
Animal training within our zoological collections should be done with the thought of the net welfare to the animals and how it could help us protect the species. Education, research, behaviour, inspiration are all outcomes to animal training. With animal training we can do research that has never been done before, with species we know very little about. For marine mammal trainers animal training is standard but there are plenty of zoos that do not prioritise training. I’m lucky enough to work for a zoo that supports and prioritises animal training. We know that training should be part of the basic care we provide to the animal and it is even more important to train for the reasons listed above, especially with what’s going on the world right now.
Getting blood from the animals is crucial for the veterinarian to check the animals health but it’s an amazing research tool to get to know more. By training animals for blood samples and other medical procedures we could do many research projects and continue to learn how we can help their wild cousins.
In 2018 I was part of a project with Alpine Ibex. They had to be trained to wear a special collar that would collect data about their movements and energy usage within their exhibit. The animals were completely untrained and we had a timeline to collect data of about 2-2.5 months. It was a huge challenge but we had to get it done. The behaviours we needed to train were, call-over, station, habituation to the collar and tactile. Unfortunately we didn’t have a trainer for each ibex but we did our best. Here is the result of our training:
If we know more about our animals, if we know more about why and how we should protect these animals. I think most people have seen the video about how the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park had changed a whole ecosystem. Maybe more animals are able to have such dramatic positive impacts, it’s definitely worth trying to figure out and one way is ANIMAL TRAINING!
Let’s put the focus on education, research, husbandry, medical and behaviour because we have to act now. Train because you want to know more about the species, not because you think it is a cute behaviour.