As our world starts to question what is best for our own sake without valuing scientists reasoning anymore, we tend to find it more important to push our own opinions through if they matter or not. I know plenty of people who are trying their hardest to educate people from out the science perspective but for some reason it is harder than ever. Social media has a big part in this.
Coming from the Zoo world it’s extremely tuff to see this happening now. I believe that at the end of the story everybody wants the best for each other the animals and our world. The big difference is the way we take to protect them. We always say there are a 1000 ways to Rome and right here it’s the perfect way to describe such choices we make. Now if you would ask me which way I would take I would say to you the way that reflects positivity. I’m all in for positive thoughts and I believe that everybody has a sense of positivity in them. The what if… question pops up in my mind very often and I really try to make this the moto of my daily motivation to find out new ways of for example training the animals we work with. To see life differently and see what we know from the animals we take care for.
At the moment I’m at 12 years of experience training a big diversity of animals. Every day I get amazed by what animals are capable of doing with motivational strategies used by their caregivers. But one of the questions that pops up all the time is… most likely somebody figured out parts of intelligence from different species in the animal kingdom, but why aren’t we sharing our knowledge then? Cause If we would share our findings what could be as simple as hey we use this as reinforcement of our animals or hey we discovered a way to introduce Capybaras who do not have a social group established yet. (Yes, believe it or not Capybaras are cute, nice and funny but it’s a hell to introduce them together) Why aren’t we sharing information?
In Europe we have a huge amount of different languages what could actually be one of the main issues we have at our side of the world. Beside that, the matter of why should we change what works today? Well that’s not really the point. The actual point is that when we know more we know better what to protect. When we know more we start to get a better understanding of why animals are in their positions in the food chain to just mention a simple topic. At the moment I’m working in the biggest Zoo of Scandinavia, Kolmårdens Djurpark Sweden. I’m working there as Animal Training Coordinator. For my job I have the challenge to train all the species in the zoo for higher welfare standards. To reach these goals we have to have a strong Animal Care team and I’m lucky enough to have such people surrounding me.
On a daily basis we discover that there must be Zoo’s doing what we do, already, and why aren’t we asking them instead of trying to reinvent the wheel over and over again? So this came to my mind… We should start to hook up specific departments in Zoos who talk to specific departments in other Zoos. This idea popped up when my brother explained what they do at the company he works for. They talk to each other monthly if not on a weekly base to see what they can learn from each other. What gave me the idea to connect to Zoos around the world with as name “The Catch Up”. So far we had the privilege to talk with San Diego Zoo and Safari parks carnivore teams and parts of Zurich Zoo’s South America team.
We can see right away a difference in thinking of both parties. We discover that we shouldn’t be reinventing the wheel again and again. Hopefully we can take this project even to a next level and maybe let zoo educators talk with each other or even marketing departments now a marketing department of a zoo spreads our message on a bigger scale.
Where did this all lead to so far? Okay, as explained before I’m a what-if thinker and on top of that I would consider myself an extrovert who is not afraid to just talk with other to share ideas. Animal Training is my profession and the beautiful part of this profession is that it changes all the time. I read a lot of literature from respected people in the field such as, Grey Stafford, Frans de Waal, Karen Pryor, Kayce Cover, Jenifer Zeligs, Ken Ramirez, and so on (If I would give the full list, this blog would be too long) Anyway, from their stories and knowledge I keep my mind open to new thoughts.
This is one of those stories: In 2014 I met a dolphin Nephele an older female in our group of 8 bottlenosed dolphins. If I could describe her character I would say she is willing to learn, curious, excited, strong, thoughtful, sweet and intelligent. Nephele’s training history was very dependent on other animals instead of trainers. Her main focus was following the other animals by how we call it mimicry of copying. She wasn’t able to do many behaviors on her own and most of the time needed somebody else to help her out. Till a year after we decided let’s teach her more confidence because we discovered if she knew what to do she would give 200% energy in the behavior we would ask her to do. We started with small behaviors and built up to behaviors she needed more energy for. She seems to enjoy high energy behaviors very much, but then we found out on the way that Nephele had a hard time going from high energy behaviors and excitement back to more calm behaviors. She wasn’t able to cope with the fast pacing changes very well. A lot of written theories wouldn’t work with her and we had to find ways to help her with being more calm in particular behaviors. Why would you wonder… Her excitement reaches levels where you have an exciting body posture that because of this she would do the most crazy behaviors already. This could be dangerous for her and potentially for the trainers. To get her calm we have to hold her and and pet her slowly so she becomes more calm and relaxed. This is important for behaviors such as blood samples or other behaviors where relaxation is part of the criteriae. This story is one out of the extraordinary and immediately shows us that every animal is different even in the same specie. We have to keep this in mind when we train our animals. The plan you made for one animal might not work for the other.
Experiences like those of Nephele are the ones we should talk about with each other. Those are the animals that take us to a different understanding of animal behavior and even further intelligence. Because maybe Nephele is just an extremely smart animal. Sharing is a key point in today’s growth of our profession.
If we want to know more we should talk more about the experiences we have with our animals. We should start talking about what we want to know and discover if somebody has this knowledge already. We should stop trying invent the wheel all the time and be open to each others stories.
Sharing is Caring!