Julie Scardina – Racing Against Time, The Role Trainers Have Today.
I met Julie Scardina personally this year at the IMATA conference and I asked her what her vision is on our current situations. After a while I discovered that she is making a huge difference in the life of animals around the world. She started at Seaworld 0ver 35 years ago and became an ambassador and educator for all of our animals on this planet. I asked her if she could share her thoughts about conservation and animal training in a guest blog. She is an Inspiring, Motivational individual with a lot of great stories. She just published a new book together with J. Flocken, WildLife Heroes.
Photo: “Julie Scardina presents Bob the alligator along with a message promoting sustainability and conservation of our natural resources at the 2006 Texas Parks and Wildlife Expo”.
As professional trainers there are quite a variety of ways we utilize our skills, from training behavior for husbandry, presentations to the public, research, preparing animals for public interaction in the role of ambassador, and even for dealing with colleagues and in business. These are classic roles for animal trainers in zoos and aquaria.
But the need has expanded; the situation today is vastly different, in so many respects, from what it was just 10 years ago. While trainers have always been on the forefront of increasing the welfare of those animals in their care through the application of positive operant conditioning technique, it’s no longer enough. Public and media scrutiny of zoological facilities, increased welfare expectations, increased environmental issues, and rampant species declines in the wild demand us to do more with our skills. On top of our most basic responsibility to the upmost welfare for the animals in our care, we also have a responsibility towards ensuring their species thrive in the wild as well.
Hence, I believe there are two categories in which we should place our efforts:
Welfare; including husbandry, enrichment, physical fitness, fulfilling social requirements, adding challenge, choice and control for each animal, as well as other creative components that continue to improve the lives of the animals in our care. We have certainly paved a path in this area but need to continue to push the bounds of what we accomplish, including outside our facilities and into the community, helping improve the welfare of animals across the globe, laboratory research animals, farm and food animals, and even pets and rescue organizations. If every facility formed a few partnerships with local organizations whose animals could benefit from our expertise, think of the expanded reach we could have and the learning opportunities for all.
Conservation; including raising public awareness, education and inspiration, support and validation of field work, species and ecosystem research, rehabilitation and reintroduction efforts and assistance. While many of our organizations participate in these areas, do we maximize the involvement of our training skills? Do audiences and the public realize the importance of our animal ambassadors? The goal is not just for us, as professionals, to take action but for us to influence others and make a measurable difference for species and environmental conservation.
While I hope that all trainers know about the state of our planet and some of our most pressing conservation issues around the globe, we must all become better informed about at least the most critical and relevant issues.
Here’s one piece of shocking news we should all be aware of: in the past 45 years, just within my lifetime – the world has lost greater than 50% percent of its animal life. According to the World Wildlife Living Planet Report 2016, the planet’s wildlife has declined by 58%! More than half of all vertebrate animals gone in less than a generation! If you are as shocked as I am, then we know we have to do more – but what’s really motivating is that we all have the tools to make that difference.
Whether it’s using your expertise for connecting with and inspiring guests to take action, teaching the next generation, assisting scientists in the field, saving animals in need, conducting research with our own ambassadors, enhancing care, welfare and potential breeding situations for endangered species or providing expertise to organizations working to return species to the wild.
We all know about the negative shift in public attitudes towards zoos and aquariums – people, especially young people, who are uncomfortable with the idea of ‘wild’ animals in the care of humans. But what they don’t realize or perhaps appreciate is that we are losing the war of biodiversity. Passion needs knowledge and experience to save species. Caring for and understanding behavior of the populations at our facilities has given us all the skills to make a difference for species. Just look at this partial list of captive breeding successes: Peregrine Falcon, American Bison, Mexican Wolf, California Condor, Black Footed Ferret, Arabian Oryx, Trumpeter Swan, and others. All preserved due to breeding programs in human care and subsequent return to the wild. That takes experience, and is made more successful with an experts understanding of behavior and it’s consequences. We in the marine mammal field have as much knowledge of preparing and returning animals successfully to the wild than any other field I can think of.
Animals, species the world over are in need of this expertise, as rescued populations of primates, parrots, elephants, canids and many others are all being returned to try to bolster populations and provide a second chance for survival in the wild. There many populations of animals where every individual is important – lions, penguins, painted dogs, vaquita, wolves…find them just about everywhere in the world – and offer our assistance.
Species will survive into the future not despite zoological populations, but because of them – and you – your skills as caretakers, trainers, educators, veterinarians and researchers. We are in a race against time – and we must utilize our skills more effectively, more wide-ranging and with even more purpose than we ever have before – to help save species, to continually improve welfare for every animal in human care and to convince the public that both they themselves and zoos are both critical to the future of wildlife on this planet!