Operant Conditioning or training is a very important part of animal husbandry. At Potter Park Zoo, all of our training is through
positive reinforcement, and the animals participate voluntarily. This means that animals can decide not to work with us, andthey can choose to leave our training sessions at any time. Every animal moves at its own pace and has its own repertoire of trained behaviors! Our Red Pandas have learned some very important behaviors that help our staff keep them healthy.
The following is a list of some behaviors that we’ve trained:
- Target – touches nose to ball on end of stick. Target is used to move animal around to specific locations in the exhibit.
- Touch – allows us to touch their body without them moving away to assess physical condition.
- Poke – allows us to poke their hip with a blunted needle in preparation for injections such as annual vaccinations.
- Crate – walks into a kennel and lets us shut door, eliminating the stress of forcibly catching an animal when it is necessary to move them to a new location or transport them to the animal hospital.
Once we confirmed breeding with the red pandas our primary red panda trainer, Liz Jagenow, started training Maliha to prepare her for an ultrasound. Maintenance staff built a platform with a PVC stand that Maliha could sit upright on, which would placeher in the proper position for the ultrasound. Liz then began working with Maliha to sit so that her front paws were on the top of the PVC stand. Once Maliha was comfortably using the platform, Liz started to touch Maliha’s belly with her hands, then moved on to using an ultrasound probe so Maliha could get used to this new sensation and pressure. When Maliha was comfortable with the probe being on her belly we brought in an ultrasound technician. Though we were able to get pictures the results were inconclusive. A few weeks later, the technician returned and was able to confirm pregnancy and saw at least two cubs!
Maliha successfully gave birth to one male and one female cub July 2. Animal care staff was happy that she immediately started to nurse them and that she has continued to provide them with exceptional care. The relationship Liz built with Maliha during training sessions prior to birth has proven invaluable after the birth of the cubs as her comfort level with Liz has allowed animal care staff to do regular weight and health checks on the cubs with minimal stress to Maliha. These regular checks are the best way to determine if the cubs are receiving the proper amount of nutrition from the mother.
Liz is looking forward to beginning training programs for both of the cubs as soon as they begin venturing out of the nest box.You can check Potter Park Zoo’s website, potterparkzoo.org, for scheduled red panda talks and training sessions by Liz and other keepers. Right now all training sessions viewed will be with our male Rupert Jr. until the cubs get big enough to explore the outside exhibit in a few months.