Here at Twycross Zoo our animals are involved in animal training programmes. One of the main reasons we train our animals is to enable us to monitor their health very closely. For example, some of our animals are trained to present their arm for injections so that it is easy for us to give them medication if ever they need it. Training also helps with their general husbandry routines, making it easy to move them from one area to another so that we can clean their enclosures.
So how do we train our animals?
We are able to train our animals by teaching them that when they do something correctly they get a reward, usually a piece of their favourite food. This is called ‘positive reinforcement’ and we then repeat this until the animal knows exactly what we want them to do. We then pair the food with a clicker, a small training device that makes a clicking sound. This is known as a bridge and it is this that helps tell the animal that what they did is correct, as they associate the clicking sound with a food reward.
One of the simplest behaviours that we train our animal to do is to touch a “target” such as a wooden spoon or a bamboo cane with their nose or hand. Once they are touching the target we can then get them to follow the target so we can train for other behaviours such as sitting on the scales so we can weigh them.