As one of the key strategic partners of the new School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Surrey, we are part of a collaborative network of veterinarians, doctors and other scientists seeking to meet the needs of a changing world. Together we try to understand the interactions between animal, human and ecosystem health, emerging disease, behaviour, climate, biodiversity and land use. This holistic view and inter- disciplinary approach is critical for promoting good health, wellbeing and sustainable living.
We are also privileged in being in a position to help shape the veterinary professionals of the future by providing lectures, tutorials, unique opportunities for project work, extra-mural studies and final year elective modules . Currently the University offers two undergraduate and one postgraduate course: BVMSci Veterinary Medicine & Science, BSc Veterinary Biosciences and MSc Veterinary Microbiology. (http://www.surrey.ac.uk/subjects/veterinary-medicine-science).
What is training?
Training can be considered learning, and for animals in zoos this usually takes the form of learning through interactions with their human caregivers (keepers, vets, etc.). This makes us, their human caregivers, also their teachers. Animals are constantly learning from their environment but also from us, and we must be aware of this during every encounter we have with our animals, not just during designated training sessions.
Why do we train our animals?
Training is an essential part of how we care for our animals on a daily basis here at Marwell. Through training using positive reinforcement, our animals learn how to cooperate with us during their daily husbandry regime; an example of this would be an animal moving from its inside to its outside habitat on cue, so that the inside area can be cleaned. Training can also greatly help to improve an animal’s welfare and reduce its stress when we need to provide it with veterinary care – for example, allowing a blood sample to be taken without restraint or immobilisation.
What do we mean by ‘positive reinforcement’?
When an animal performs a behaviour that we would like it to repeat, we reinforce that behaviour with something the animal finds pleasing, usually food. For example, if Milla, the Amur tiger, comes into her house when called, she is given a piece of chicken. If Milla likes chicken, she is more likely to repeat the behaviour of coming inside next time she is called. Training is completely voluntary; we always give our animals the choice to participate, and this in turn gives them control over their behaviour and environment. All animals can benefit from training and the same methods can be used to train all species – this means that you can train your pet dog, cat or even goldfish using the same methods we use to train our tigers, giraffes or crocodile monitor!
We have a large full time on-site Veterinary Team at Marwell, and our dedicated Animal Nutritionists and Animal Behaviourist work within this team. They work collaboratively to ensure that each animal’s individual behavioural and nutritional needs are met, ensuring that diets are formulated in a balanced way that can include options for food-based rewards to be used during training sessions, while ensuring that training doesn’t impact on their overall nutritional requirements.
How is animal training monitored at Marwell?
Our Animal Behaviourist, with the support of Marwell’s Behaviour and Training Group, oversees all animal training at Marwell. The training process begins when a training need is identified, for example, if we know that an animal is leaving the zoo we will aim to train them to enter a crate so that they don’t need to be physically caught up, in order to make the process as stress-free as possible. Once a need is identified, the trainer will write a proposal document and detailed training plan which are approved by the Veterinary Team before training begins. Each training session with an animal is then recorded to monitor how each animal and trainer are learning. Human training is an important part of this process – since animals are constantly learning, they are always looking for subtle cues from their carers, so we have to be really careful not to train a behaviour that is detrimental to an animal’s welfare. To achieve this, staff training is an integral part of our animal training programme.
If you would like to learn more about animal training, please take a look at some of the references below:
Anderson US, Kelling AS, Pressley-Keough R, Bloomsmith MA, Maple TL (2003) Enhancing the zoo visitor’s experience by public animal training and oral interpretation at an otter exhibit. Environment and Behaviour 35 (6) p826-841
Brando S (2012) Animal Learning and Training: Implications for Animal Welfare. Veterinary Clinics: Exotic Animal Practice 15 p387-398
Laule G & Whittaker M (2007) Enhancing Nonhuman Primate Care and Welfare Through the Use of Positive Reinforcement Training. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 10 (1) p31-38
Melfi, V & Thomas, S (2005) Can training zoo-housed primates compromise their conservation? A case study using Abyssinian colobus monkeys (Colobus guereza). Anthrozoos A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interatctions of People & Animals 18 (3) p 304-317
Miller LJ, Zeigler-Hill V, Mellen J, Koeppel J, Greer T, Kuczaj S (2013) Dolphin Shows and Interaction Programs: Benefits for Conservation Education? Zoo Biology 32 p 45-53
Pomerantz O & Terkel J (2009) Effects of Positive Reinforcement Training Techniques on the Psychological Welfare of Zoo-Housed Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). American Journal of Primatology 71 p687-695
Westlund, K (2014) Training is enrichment – And beyond. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 152 p1-6