The Human Specie is an interesting specie to work with. They have strong social bonds and detailed complex thinking. Some are extraordinary smart and some are super fit. I think its very interesting how people respond to situations and there for I can just look at people for a long time. Just to see their behaviour. I would like to call this Popcorn time. Why people give responses the way they do are in many cases a learned behaviour from previous experiences. What makes popcorn time fun to have. Over time you acknowledge moments you had before and know how to respond to them because you experienced it before. Its similar to animals, animals learn on the way. There are apes out there who use tools such as rocks to crack nuts. We know rocks could be dangers for our fingers. When such an apes uses this rock and doesn’t have an idea about the danger it will learn at one point the dangerous matter by hitting his fingers. The funny part is the animal still keeps going because of the motivation of the nut he wants. Trial and Error a lot of us call these survival strategies. Its very interesting how and why people do what they do and its even more interesting when we talk about animals.

A personal thought came to my mind when my sister visited me last month. We had some talks about drinking water etc and that’s where I remember a friend of mine I used to dance with. He studied in a school for sports and he said to me one day “Peter it is actually very simple, in your whole life you have to take care of one thing and that’s yourself”. I thought “oke” back then but now I think yeah that makes a lot of sense actually. I mean nobody will poor water in your body accept yourself. Nobody can make you fit if you don’t want to. All these healthy choices you need to make yourself. If I look at myself I think im taking pretty good care of myself and this has been a goal for a while. I do my weekly work outs what makes me feel better on the long run.

Isn’t it for the animals the same? I mean they have to survive by taking care of themselves to be able to survive. What means all the essences of being healthy and strong to survive is need what includes exercise as well. In training our animals we use many reasons for what we want to teach them. A lot of times animals get trained for health checks, for enrichment and sometimes presentations. But maybe we are forgetting some important reasons, I learned this working with Killer Whales. We actually made them work out for their own sake so they would be these strong individuals what would reflect back to their health. With these animals, we were working in open contact situations so using targets to help them exercise was a lot easier. In the Zoo world, I believe we should do the same… Part of taking care of our animals should be exercise them to make the animals stronger and even healthier. This got me thinking after I received a great video of Laser training with an Elephant at Vienna Zoo.

Targets come in all shapes and sizes. I remember using a 5 meter target pole at one of the marine mammal facilities I used to work at. But targets are not only just poles, it could be a so called station and animal has to sit on, a shape, form or colour an animal has to touch or even a specific spot in an exhibit the animal has to go to. Targets are a great tool to train animals for behaviours we want them voluntarily to participate in. A Laser pointer is one of those outside the box ideas of a target.

If we train our animals a Laser as a target we can train animals to climb trees on a distance or make them move around by following this new targeting idea. We can do more with Laser pointers then we think. Exercise is just one way of going. Getting animals to go to various positions such as to a scale, or a gate or separate from other animals just on your own. Not to mention the group training you can do when all animals are trained on stations with the laser. Everything could be a lot easier when you try using a laser. It opens your world of animal training in Open and Protective Contact setting. Not to mention the efficiency I mean if I can stand from a distance and I ask the animals to follow the laser to another exhibit wouldn’t that be the easiest thing in the world?


Laser pointer use with a gorilla at Werribee Open Range Zoo 

It sounds all very amazing right? But there are some cons to it. At Kolmården Zoo we have a lot of very green and open exhibits. Using the proper colour is a necessary discussion we need in our zoo. This is not just because of the exhibits but as well if the animal can see particular colours or not. There are plenty of studies around about animals seeing colours yes or no. There for we decided to use for our Lynx a green laser pointer with a larger diameter light dot. Do you remember you parents saying “don’t shine the laser pointer in somebodies eyes” back then we all thought why… well if the laser is strong enough it could cause some serious damage to your eyes. Discussing such training in a team or management is necessary to see the pros that come out of it at the end.

I was reading an article the other day about if animals have a consciousness about their bodies. They tested mirrors with a variety of animals to see if they would recognize themselves by adding a painted dot on a body part they couldn’t see without a mirror present. A Laser would be a great way to test such self-consciousness in other animals. The question is how do you start training such a target? I mean the animals have to recognise the target at first I guess?

There are many different ways to train such a target and as you can see you can do this with many different species. The first steps you want to take might be to think about what body part should the animal use to touch the target? The Elephant used his trunk and the Gorilla used his hand. This might have the reason not being so close to their eyes, but what about animals who do not have this ability? Here is a great video of a Warthog at Denver Zoo where they train the animal a target from the beginning just using its nose. Very simple and easy way. The good part is the nose is not that close to their eyes. At Kolmårdens Zoo we are thinking about training this with our Wolverines and Lynxes by using their paws to touch the Laser just like the Gorilla.


Laser target training at Denver Zoo

Training with a Laser pointer is a great add on to the lives of our animals. For our efficiency, for the enrichment and for the potential research we can create with it. Even the start of group training could be a done with laser targets!


Peter Giljam

“Thinking Outside the Zoo” 


Peter is a passionate Animal Consultant that beside teaching you about Operant Conditioning makes sure you will go home motivated and inspired. Make sure you read his Bio!


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