The Pueblo Zoo Animal Care Staff is engaged in an exciting project to investigate what zoo animals are capable of identifying through targeted training.
Pueblo Zoo Veterinarian, Kathy Wolyn, was inspired to develop this study after being introduced to the book “Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words”. After reading about the work of retired psychologist by Dr. John W. Pilley Jr. Ph.D and his dog, Chaser, Dr. Wolyn became curious about whether any of our local zoo animals would be responsive to similar training. She also wanted to generate keeper enthusiasm for training a new behavior through introducing a bit of friendly competition into regular training.
Keepers were asked to identify animals they thought would be most responsive to training based on past performance. Each keeper then took responsibility for the training of that animal.
The animals and trainers included in this study are:
Meerkat "Hazel" & Trainer Kathy
Zebra "Keyo" & Trainer Kathy
Camel "Cleo" & Trainer Kathy
Macaw "Oro" & Trainer Becky
Goat "Rosie" & Trainer Jen
Gibbon "Suzy" & Trainer Kim
Lemur "Nova" & Trainer Gina
Lemur "Shasta" & Trainer Kim
Tortoise "Goliath" & Trainer Katie
Maned Wolf "Cayenne" & Trainer Nikki
Red Panda "Damien" & Trainer Krystal
Otter "Thelma" & Trainer Mel
Sun Bear "Barney" & Trainer Kathy
These animals were chosen because they are both reliable and enthusiastic participants and provide a wide variety of species to represent in the study.
Four objects are being used for identification:
Pink bouncy balls –“Pinky”
Green plastic cups – “Cup”
Red or black spatula – “Flipper”
Rubber squeaky toy – “Toy”
The trainers start with the first object “Pinky” and work with the animal to target that object. Over time, when the animal has been successful with targeting the initial object, they will graduate to the next object. The trainer introduces the second object and trains the animal to target it. Then, the tricky part, seeing if the animal can distinguish between two objects successfully. The goal is for the animal to be able to successfully identify a specific object when several are presented.
The study began July 15 and will run for at least three months. dWe will keep you posted on progress.
Click here to see photos, videos, and vote for the animal you think will be most successful with the new training program!