mateo target train

at the ZooBack to School

September 9, 2015

With the busy summer season past us it is back to school for the animals at the zoo.  Each day we provide animal training and enrichment to our ambassador animals. For the last summer camp of the season, our prehensile tail porcupine Mateo made his first appearance to guests showing his accomplishments. Mateo was born at the zoo in December of 2014 and was hand raised by our veterinary staff. (You may remember seeing pictures of him on the zoos Instagram and Facebook pages.) He has become one of our program animals and has been undergoing conditioning. After a few practice sessions with our Conservation Youth team volunteers and education staff, Mateo demonstrated that he was ready to meet his first group of campers.

One of the first things Mateo learned was a clicker. Each time we fed him a piece of food we clicked. He soon learned that each click meant a piece of food was coming. One of the most important behaviors Mateo has learned is to go into a crate voluntarily. We held a crate up to him and when he came close or put his head in we clicked and then rewarded him with food. Each time he got further into the crate we would click and reward until he was walking completely in and turning himself around. Now he crates like a professional making it easy for us to transport him around the Zoo.

The next behavior Mateo learned was targeting. To target he is touching his nose to a target pole (a ping pong ball on a dowel). He very quickly learned that when he touched the target he heard a click, which meant he would get a reward. Target training is important because it can help us lead Mateo through more behaviors. By targeting him along a tree he is stretching his muscles and getting physical exercise. For presentation in programs Mateo climbs across a tree perch and targets showing off his prehensile tail and natural behaviors of climbing. We can also target Mateo to different branches in our outside exercise yard helping him to get more exercise.

Training our animals helps to provide them with mental stimulation and exercise. Through training we are able to make sure our animals are comfortable with all types of situations. Mateo first learned to target on the tree perch inside our program animal building before moving the perch outside. The next step in his training is to move the perch to different classrooms around the Zoo to prepare him for school programs.

Through animal training we can build a positive relationship with our animals. Animal training also allows us to provide veterinary care for our animals. Animals can be trained to present various parts of their bodies for examination, to walk onto scales, and to hold and remain calm during routine examinations.  Training is allowing zoos to provide husbandry care, exercise, mental stimulation and even aid in research. Working closely with our animal ambassadors allows us to help their wild counterparts through various conservation projects tailored to their needs.

STEPHANIE PETERS, PROGRAM ANIMAL COORDINATOR