I enjoy observing animals very much. The amount you learn by just sitting there and looking at your animals. Do we actually know our animals we work with or do we only know them from when we train them? It’s questionable if we actually know our animals. From people they say when you go through rougher times you get to know a person better and better. This does work the same with animals. I mean when you see animals being aggressive to each other you get to see more behaviours from that animal you thought you knew what sometimes has surprisingly funny outcomes.

When we discover by observations that our animals have particular stereotypic behaviours we tend to say the animals are bored. It’s hard to say what’s going down in the body of the animals we work with but what we know is that they do it for a reason. What that reason would be is the question. We tend to say that the animals are bored but isn’t that a problem we actually made ourselves?

Here is a link to a Video where you can see a Vicuna pacing, most likely because it wants to be with its keepers.

Vicuna Pacing

With some animals we see it more then with others the question wouldn’t be where does it come from the question these days is how do we get rid of it. It might be a welfare based question but I won’t talk about this right now. Its still a question of how to get rid of it. To do so we should maybe look into the time budget the animals have. If their time budget is based on routines that we developed to make our work easier we might need to consider that the animals time budget doesn’t work that way at all. We just did this for our efficiency. We come in at a particular time, we clean the exhibits at a particular time before we open, we have lunch at a set time and so on. Those can all be ingredients to build problem behaviour due to the routines we as caretakers created. When the animals know what’s going to happen the animal will plan its day accordingly as well. This in theory would make potential problematic issues. But lets turn it around. Does stereotypic behaviour come from excitement as well? Or are we talking about superstitious behaviour now?

Stereotypic behaviour – An undesirable repetitive behavior that is enacted by an organism, generally as a result of anxiety and/or lack of stimulation.

Im a big fan of variety, I believe that predictability could fall into behaviours that could be problematic for the animals. To play the devils advocate some animals seemed to enjoy a certain predictability. One of our supervisors explained me that our elephants at the end of the day have a more acceptive state of mind. Thinking about this point of view it could make sense because the animals know nothing will happen after a particular time what means the animal can completely relax from all the emotions we tend to bring with us and not have the excitement for potential sessions. The only thing the animal has to do is eat and sleep. What makes me think because if this is true can’t we add a signal to a time when we give the animal the chance to do something on its own for a minimum of 1 hour at least? I guess we just talk about an End of Session signal with some rules in there. So you train the animals, here go do something for an hour minimum and after this it could be variable what means we can come back after 1h15 minutes or even 2h. This potentially gives the animals a calmer state of mind for a period of time what should reflect in a decrease of potential problem behaviours when we are around. When the animals know I’m still in the time of doing stuff for myself we can be around all the time without interacting with the animals.

Emotions come and go, but a mark in the brain could be set for a very long time. I believe that in some situation superstitious behaviour starts first and if not taken care of well enough this could potentially go into stereotypic behaviour. When it reaches that level the problem is way worse then we thought it would be previously. Through assesments we can discover how far the behaviour has gone from the observing standpoint.

Superstitious behaviour – Behavior that is unintentionally and unknowingly reinforced by a keeper/trainer.

Excitement of training might be considered superstitious as well. Animals who can’t deal with a particular emotion what comes out in a repetitive behaviour the keepers reinforce even though they think they are just feeding. Knowing the effect of us as caretakers on the animals will reduce superstitious behaviours and stereotypic already.


This video shows superstitious behaviour from Chimpanzeees. By unknowingly reinforcing the begging and clapping they started to have an increase in this undesirable behaviour. With A change in the timing of the reinforcement they reduced the behaviour 90% as of today.

Observation is a key in Pro Active Behavioural Management


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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