NPDC's zoo and the power of positive training

16 May 2019

Brooklands Zoo staff are using the power of positive training to cut down on stress and make our furry friends happier. 

A good training programme really helps our staff care for the wide variety of animals at the zoo. It can help make stress events such as injections potentially less stressful events and we’ve even been able to turn the events into something the animals look forward to.

Our kune kune pigs, Areta and Pig Pig, are learning co-operative care using a target training technique. This is where they touch their nose to a coloured shape on the end of a stick. Routine injections (for worming prevention) can be quite upsetting, especially for our more sensitive souled pig, Areta, so hopefully soon she won't blink an eye when the real deal is due again.  

Both our girls can now touch their nose to their target sticks to signal they are ready to be touched. 

When they target the stick, we touch the rump and neck in a way that simulates injections. If they remove their nose from the target stick, we stop touching them. This means the pig essentially has control over what is happening and they learn to trust that we will stop when they stop touching the stick. They are steadily improving.  

Our piggy pals are also learning the cue ‘open’. This is where they open their mouths on cue to enable us to check their teeth. As you can imagine pigs are prone to teeth issues, so training will help us catch any issues in the early stages.

Both pigs now open their mouths and say the pig equivalent of ‘aaagh’ on cue. The next step is building width, so they consistently open their mouths nice and wide. Then it will be: duration – holding their mouths open long enough for us to have a good look. Wish us luck! 

Our delightful alpacas Liquorice, Cinnamon and Ricotta are doing amazingly with their halter training. Long gone are the days where zookeepers had to chase them around the paddock to halter them. These days we simply hold their halters out and they walk right into them, such is the power of positive reinforcement training. 

Our meerkats, even our more recent arrivals, Aziza and Tamela, are also doing beautifully with their crate training. Lindiwe, one of the older girls, tries to climb in her crate before it's even on the ground! 

And cotton-top tamarin Inca has come along in leaps and bounds with her training programme. She now enters her crate on cue and sits happily while the door is shut. She gets a juicy locust as a reward. This is a far cry from having to net her as we had to do previously. 

This is just a small sample of the neat things we are achieving with our animals - building trust and helping make the lives stress-free as possible for our furry and feathered friends. 

Written by Brooklands Zookeeper, Kelly Green 

Areta Kune Kune Pig at Brooklands Zoo