Posts Tagged ‘animals’

by , Director
I've been at the Museum sooooo long - longer than many of our interns have been alive. I do a little bit of everything as part of my job: care for the animals, work with the keepers and other staff, spend time with guests. Lucky me!
I spend a lot of time behind-the-scenes, or here after hours, but if you really want to see me, you'll have to sign-up for a behind-the-scenes program.

traveling companions

November 18th, 2012

I was chatting with someone recently about my trip to Ohio to pick up our new red wolf, # 1414.  Afterwards,  I began thinking of what other animals I have shared my vehicle with.  Here’s a partial list of my travel companions over the years.

  • red wolves. Besides the Ohio pick up, last month Aaron and I had our road trip to Atlanta to get #1369 on his plane out to Tacoma.   WV and NY were probably the longest trips, each over 500 miles each direction. Many years ago I met keepers from Florida on  I-95 in Georgia and did a wolf exchange at a gas station.   (Click here to see a video of former keepers Kristen and Cassidy picking up a former red wolf – 1227- from the airport.
  • black bears- Gus  and Yona, to be specific. I almost didn’t make it back with Gus as the Wildlife Official transferring Gus from his crate to mine was a bit casual. Volunteer Annie was with me and almost had a heart attack. Yona was transferred to my van in the parking lot of WalMart in Johnson City, Tennessee.
  • saltwater fish (I’ve probably made 5 trips to the beach over the years for fish, and then to airports to get them. We don’t have saltwater fish on exhibit anymore, so no more beach trips).
  • snakes- I picked up a couple a few years ago from the Dan Nicholas Park Nature Center.
  • Alligators: Former Keepers Daniel and Larry did most of the Florida Alligator exchanges, but I’ve had 8 alligators share my ride to and from South Carolina.

The list goes on and on: woodchuck, opossums, owls, hawks, lemurs, bobcat, raccoon, goats… I wonder what animal will be next???

 

Join the conversation:

  1. How old was Gus at that time? I wish I had a photo from the last bear feeding I attended when Gus was upright on the gate behind you. His paws and height are so impressive!!

    Posted by dj
  2. Director Comment :

    DJ: We picked Gus up in July. He was about 6 months old (less than 40 pounds too). It is amazing when he stands up tall!!

    Posted by Sherry Samuels

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by , Keeper
I've been at the museum since 2010. I love to read and learn; it's rare that a day goes by at work when I'm not suppressing the urge to spew out something cool I just learned to my coworkers. In my spare time, I play the 'cello, snuggle my dog and reminisce about snowmen and Nor'easters.
I work Sunday through Thursday. You can find me raking the Farmyard in the morning or training the donkey and dwarf goats in the afternoon.

Time For a Tune-Up

September 20th, 2012

Now that we’re 1 month away from the grand re-opening of the Farmyard, it’s time to trade-in your well practiced sheep “baa” and try out your newly acquired alpaca “hum.” Here’s Retro, short for “Retroversion,” one of our new alpaca moms– and by far the most vocal– giving you a lesson in alpaca communication.

So get practicing and in 30 days you will be ready to welcome the humming quartet into their new Farmyard home.

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Join the conversation:

  1. Retro is sweet! Would love to meet her and her cohorts!!

    Posted by Åsa

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by , Behavior Consultant
I've been working with the museum since 2009 as a Behavior Management Consultant. I work with keepers and staff to gain the voluntary cooperation of the animals in their own care through operant conditioning.
You can find me teaching at Davidson County Community College, or through my business website Animalworksconsulting.com.

What’s That Click?

September 7th, 2012

Have you watched a training session at the museum lately?  (Click here to see an old video of Marilyn training Chummix) If you see Kent training Max, or Kimberly training the lemurs, or Sarah working with Lightning, you’ve probably heard a clicking sound while they train.  What is that thing?  It’s called a clicker, and it’s used as a conditioned reinforcer.  You can establish any arbitrary sound as a conditioned reinforcer, but clickers and whistles are the two that seem to be preferred by animal trainers.

Remember last time I posted, we talked about using food treats in a reinforcement contingency?  A reinforcer is anything that, when presented immediately following a response, makes the likelihood of that response go up in the future.  Food is a primary reinforcer, a reinforcer that an animal (or person) doesn’t have to learn is reinforcing.  Primary reinforcers satisfy a biological need.  They include food, water, access to mates.  The sound of the clicker is a conditioned reinforcer, a reinforcer that an animal (or a person) has to learn is reinforcing. If you follow a specific behavior with a reinforcer, either primary or conditioned, the chance of that behavior occurring in the future will go up.  So when you watch keepers train the animals, you’ll hear the click immediately following a behavior that the keeper wants to see again in the future.

There are a couple things that are important when you are trying to change the frequency of a behavior with reinforcers.  First, timing is critical!  The reinforcer has to be an immediate consequence of the behavior.  Immediate, like touching in time.  If a reinforcer is delayed by even a few seconds, it looses a bunch of its reinforcing power.  So keepers work hard to click at exactly the moment when the behavior they are watching is completed. Reinforcers that are delayed by a few minutes will have almost no effect on the behavior.  (That’s true with people, too!)

Another important variable is the value of the reinforcer (not monetary value, but how much does the animal value that reinforcer as a special treat?).  We don’t get to define which reinforcers are going to be high-value – the animal gets to decide that.  And part of our job as trainers is to figure out what’s on that list.  For some, it might be favorite food items.  For others, a scratch on the nose could be a high-value reinforcer.  For some, it may be access to a favorite toy or activity.  Every animal has a list of high-value reinforcers, and for training, I always try to work with the Top Five.  Those most favorite reinforcers are reserved for training only, which increases an animal’s motivation to engage in the behaviors that have been reinforced by those items in the past (that’s called a motivating operation).

If food works as a primary reinforcer, why would we bother to establish a conditioned reinforcer for training?  Well, there are a couple reasons that clickers work well with animal training.  The first is precision.  Remember, timing is critical to the power of the reinforcer.  And getting a food item to an animal can take awhile – you have to get the item out of your pouch, reach toward the animal, they have to take the item from your hand.  That takes at least a second or two!  Much too long for reinforcement!  A click happens instantly, with perfect precision.  There’s no delay between the completion of the behavior and the delivery of the reinforcer.  That makes the reinforcer much more powerful.

Another reason is distance. Clickers are wonderful because you can deliver reinforcement even when the animal is out of arm’s reach.  Imagine trying to train a bear to station on exhibit (a project on which Katy is currently working).  To station, a bear will move toward a designated log in the exhibit.  Because we can’t go in with the bears, we can’t be right next to the bear to deliver the primary reinforcer the instant the bear is next to their log.  The clicker allows Katy to reinforce the bear from a distance (and then the primary reinforcer is thrown to the bear from the top of the building).  Without the clicker, there’s no way we could deliver reinforcement at exactly the right time from that far away.

It’s pretty easy to establish a conditioned reinforcer – just reliably pair an arbitrary stimulus with a primary reinforcer.  For a clicker, we normally pair the sound with food.  The first session with most animals that are new to training is used to establish the conditioned reinforcer (to power it up) – and it’s not a very exciting session.  Click, treat….click, treat…….click, treat…click, treat.  It doesn’t take long before the click has reinforcing power all it’s own, just like the food item would.  And voila!  You can now begin using it in contingencies!  But it won’t keep it’s power for long all by itself – you need to continue to pair it with food in order for it to maintain it’s value as a reinforcer.  That’s why, in most animal training settings, trainers will follow every click with a treat- so that the clicker continues to work as a reinforcer.  If you clicked too many times without treating, the clicker would lose its power and wouldn’t work to increase the future likelihood of a response.  (That, incidentally, is why we don’t use our voice as a conditioned reinforcer.  The animals hear us talking all the time, and every time they hear our voice and it’s not followed by food, our voice loses its power as a reinforcer.  So I always suggest, if you’re establishing a conditioned reinforcer, don’t use a word like “good” or “yes”.  Much more powerful to give the reinforcing value to a sound the animal ONLY hears in the context of training.)

So get out your clickers and start powering them up!  With good timing and by pairing them with high-value primary reinforcers, conditioned reinforcers are powerful tools in our training toolbox!

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by , Keeper
I've been at the museum since 2010. I love to read and learn; it's rare that a day goes by at work when I'm not suppressing the urge to spew out something cool I just learned to my coworkers. In my spare time, I play the 'cello, snuggle my dog and reminisce about snowmen and Nor'easters.
I work Sunday through Thursday. You can find me raking the Farmyard in the morning or training the donkey and dwarf goats in the afternoon.

A Morning Stroll

August 13th, 2012

Exercise is important for everyone! The little goats are no exception and both Rocky and Patches enjoy time to wander around the farmyard freely when the museum is still closed in the mornings. Sometimes, though, if we finish cleaning the farmyard early and there are enough volunteers, we get to do a little something extra special like washing Max, brushing the little goats or taking them on walks.

out and about

What you can’t see in this picture is Lightning, the donkey, just to my left. He also went for a walk with the goats. Even though the goats are out front leading the way, they won’t go anywhere together without Lightning nearby.

Join the conversation:

  1. I miss those little goats already!

    Posted by Casey
  2. Keeper Comment :

    They miss you, too! We love our interns!

    Posted by Sarah Van de Berg

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by , Keeper
I have been working at the museum since 2003, and I feel fortunate to have a job where I can start my day with amazing animals surrounding me. I enjoy camping, hiking and rock climbing in my spare time when the weather is nice.
I work Tuesday through Saturday and spend a lot of time behind the scenes, but you might find me at a public program or feeding the farmyard animals in the afternoon.

QuikPost: Ah, that refreshing watermelon

July 27th, 2012

Only 7 days away from National Watermelon Day! Personally, I’m glad there is a day for everyone to celebrate watermelon. I think it is one of the most refreshing foods you can eat on a hot summer day. Many of our animals seem to find it refreshing (or at least enjoyable), as well.

Check out the video below of some of our indoor animals (and maybe even a keeper) enjoying some yummy watermelon. And don’t worry, Sherry, I put the keeper up to these shenanigans. She doesn’t always steal the animals’ watermelon!;)

Make sure to visit the museum next Friday, August 3rd so that you can see our animals in action as they gobble down some juicy and delightful watermelons at many of the keeper programs that will be held that day.

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Join the conversation:

  1. Awesome video! Makes me want some yummy watermelon. Good job Marilyn!

    Posted by Ranger Ro
  2. Keeper Comment :

    Thanks Ro.;)

    Posted by Marilyn Johnson
  3. MJ- just sprinkle a little mealworm dust over that watermelon to keep the keepers from stealing it. :)

    Posted by Kristen
  4. Director Comment :

    How the heck to Jessi not get watermelon juice on her shirt?

    Posted by Sherry Samuels
  5. hahahahah that was fantastic!

    Posted by Kimberly
  6. Keeper Comment :

    Very true, Kristen!;) And Sherry, Jessi said she actually did have the juice all over her face and clothes but the camera hid it well. Fortunately we shot the video at the end of the day so she didn’t have to go outside much after that.

    Posted by Marilyn Johnson

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by , Behavior Consultant
I've been working with the museum since 2009 as a Behavior Management Consultant. I work with keepers and staff to gain the voluntary cooperation of the animals in their own care through operant conditioning.
You can find me teaching at Davidson County Community College, or through my business website Animalworksconsulting.com.

Contingencies

July 3rd, 2012

Hey all!  Have you ever wondered, “How did they get that animal to DO that??”  It’s all about contingency management.  What’s a contingency, you ask?  A contingency is a relationship between a response (or a behavior) and some environmental consequence.  (And by consequence, I don’t mean the normal, everyday definition of that word…like when a small child does something wrong and the parents say, “You’re going to get a consequence!”  Nope, that has an implication that consequences are always bad.)  A consequence, when you’re talking about contingencies, is anything that happens immediately after a behavior.  And in general, there are two types of consequences – the type that make the behavior more likely to occur in the future (reinforcing consequences), and the type that make the behavior less likely to occur in the future (punishing consequences).  At the museum, the keepers work mostly with reinforcement contingencies – we’re always looking for ways to increase the frequency of the behaviors we need to gain the voluntary cooperation of the animals in their own care and management.

If you want to increase the frequency of a response, there are two ways you can do it.  You can either add something that the animal likes, or you can remove something the animal finds aversive.  If the immediate consequence of a response is the addition of a small, favorite food item, then the future likelihood of that response will go up.  If the immediate consequence of a response if the removal of something the animal finds aversive, then the future likelihood of that response will also go up.  Those two contingencies are called Positive Reinforcement (Positive = addition) and Negative Reinforcement (Negative = removal).

 

Imagine you want your lemur to voluntarily go in a crate so you can transport it to the hospital for a vet visit.  If, every time the animal went into the crate, the keeper delivered a small bite of a raisin, then the lemur would be more likely to go in the crate in the future.  And the likelihood will go up even more if that lemur especially loved raisins, and the only time the lemur got raisins was when he went in the crate.  His motivation for doing the response would be high, because he has to work for that high-value reinforcer (raisins).

Now imagine (and this isn’t the case here at the museum, but let’s just imagine) a lemur that was housed in sight of one of its natural pedators (like a Fossa).  The sight of that predator would be an aversive stimulus – something the lemur really didn’t enjoy.  If, every time the lemur went into the crate, the immediate consequence was the removal of the sight of the predator (because the lemur can’t see through the walls of the crate), then the lemur would ALSO be more likely to go into the crate.  The likelihood of the response goes up because the immediate consequence of the response is the removal of a stimulus that the animal doesn’t like.

Both are reinforcement contingencies, because they both result in an increase in the frequency of the response (going in the crate).  But one contingency is the addition of a stimulus (the raisin) and the other is the removal of a stimulus (the sight of the predator).

Here at the museum, we focus mainly on positive reinforcement contingencies.  Keepers reinforce responses with favorite food items that are reserved just for training.  For the lemurs, dried fruit is a favorite.  For the pigs, popcorn is a big hit.  Max loves his hay.  The bears enjoy apples.

 

 

 

Each individual animal has their list of favorites.  What would be a high value reinforcer for you?

Join the conversation:

  1. Popcorn!

    Posted by Shawntel
  2. vegan cookies!

    Posted by Kimberly
  3. Vacation!

    Posted by Sarah
  4. Keeper Comment :

    Sushi!

    Posted by Marilyn Johnson
  5. Keeper Comment :

    Hey Julie, I just wanted you to know that your lessons about reinforcers are used beyond training. For instance, I like to annoy Kimberly sometimes because her reactions are very amusing to me when she gets all riled up. I finally had to tell her yesterday, “Kimberly, I’m sorry I annoy you, but Julie is right. You see, I have a certain behavior that elicits a desired reaction from you. Therefore, the likelihood of me repeating that behavior increases.” And she responded with, “Oh my gosh, you’re right! Hahaha!” :)

    Posted by Marilyn Johnson
  6. Behavior Consultant Comment :

    I’m so glad you are able to apply the principles to your everyday life, Marilyn! (Kimberly, we need to talk about extinction.) :)

    Posted by Julie Grimes

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by , Behavior Consultant
I've been working with the museum since 2009 as a Behavior Management Consultant. I work with keepers and staff to gain the voluntary cooperation of the animals in their own care through operant conditioning.
You can find me teaching at Davidson County Community College, or through my business website Animalworksconsulting.com.

Introducing Myself

June 3rd, 2012

Hello, Museum of Life and Science Family!  Sherry already did a Spotlight post on me, but I wanted to introduce myself to everyone.  I’m Dr. Julie Grimes, the Behavior Management Consultant for the Museum of Life and Science.  I have a company (well, it’s really just me and my cell phone, but the IRS keeps insisting it’s really a company) called Animalworks, LLC that provides Behavior Management services to institutions with animals in captivity.  I’ve worked with zoos, museums, science centers, police K9 units, livestock farmers, private owners.  I’ve been doing this for about 10 years and I’ve been working with the museum for 3.  I finished by PhD in 2005 , and I also teach full-time at Davidson County Community College.

Folks ask me all the time, “What do you do?”  Well, in a nutshell, I help people figure out how to train animals in a way that maximizes everyone’s welfare – animal and human.  My overall training goal is to get animals to voluntarily participate in their own care and management.  I only work with institutions that support a philosophy of voluntary cooperation with their animals.  One of my mantra’s (and if you are around me in a training context for very long, you will undoubtedly hear me say this many times) is, “We don’t make an animal do anything, we make them want to do.”  Imagine you are a zookeeper, and the vet at your institution comes to you and says, “We need to give your black bear it’s annual vaccines.” If you have an animal that will voluntarily participate in that process – by coming into its holding area voluntarily, by presenting its hip against the mesh voluntarily, by tolerating the injection voluntarily – then everyone’s day is made better.  The bear is less stressed than if we had to restrain it (either physically or chemically), the keepers are less stressed, and the vet is less stressed.  Everyone wins!  Those are the kind of projects I work on for all the species at the museum.

I visit the museum about once each month and consult with keepers about their ongoing training projects.  Sometimes I’ll observe a training session, or we’ll talk about any problems the keepers are having in their training.  Sometimes we’ll set training goals for the upcoming year.  Often we celebrate training successes by doing the Happy Training Dance (don’t ask, you just have to see it).  I love working with this staff – every one of them is dedicated, passionate and engaged in the training process.

I’m excited to be a new contributor to the blog!  Be sure to let me know if you have any questions, or if there are any training topics you want me to cover!

 

 

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  1. Welcome to the blog Julie!

    Posted by kimberly

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by , Keeper
I have been working at the museum since 2003, and I feel fortunate to have a job where I can start my day with amazing animals surrounding me. I enjoy camping, hiking and rock climbing in my spare time when the weather is nice.
I work Tuesday through Saturday and spend a lot of time behind the scenes, but you might find me at a public program or feeding the farmyard animals in the afternoon.

QuikPost: hoarders

April 19th, 2012
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The last couple of days we have been watching our muskrats closely because we were concerned one of them may have been acting a bit lethargic. So you can imagine what a pleasant surprise it was to see them both running around the exhibit early this morning!

Most of our visitors that come regularly usually only see our muskrats sleeping in their wooden house. That’s because they tend to be most active in the morning (at least for the time in which we are here), after they have been fed by the keepers. Our muskrats aren’t too keen on getting close to the keepers, so they wait until we leave the exhibit and then come out to see what kind of food they have been given for the day. Then they get busy eating and hoarding! Yes, that’s right, our muskrats will stock pile their food in their wooden house. Which is actually quite smart of them, because it means if they wake up during the day and are hungry, they have their meal right next to them instead of having to go out into the exhibit and bring it back.

I managed to get some of the hoarding on video, and it’s quite cute! Clearly, one of the muskrats likes to collect the food in the house, while the other muskrat has a specific spot at the edge of their pool where he enjoys eating.

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by , Keeper
I have been working at the museum since 2003, and I feel fortunate to have a job where I can start my day with amazing animals surrounding me. I enjoy camping, hiking and rock climbing in my spare time when the weather is nice.
I work Tuesday through Saturday and spend a lot of time behind the scenes, but you might find me at a public program or feeding the farmyard animals in the afternoon.

Trash anyone?

February 10th, 2012

From left to right: wolf exhibit, bear exhibit, farmyard exhibits, lemur exhibit.

Anyone who has been in the animal keeping profession knows that part of the job includes the unfortunate task of pulling trash out of the animal exhibits. On some level it is expected that a random object will occasionally be found in an animal’s enclosure, due to a visitor accidentally dropping something and not being able to recover it (please don’t try to retrieve the item yourself!). However, we have noticed the amount of trash in the exhibits increase significantly over the last couple of years.

By far, we find the most trash in the farmyard exhibits.

Keeper Katy focuses in the vet area of the animal department, so she is notified whenever anything is found in an exhibit so that we can put a “watch” on the animal for behavioral changes in case it ingested part of the item/food/trash. Since the keepers started finding items more frequently, Katy decided to start saving all the trash to see just how much was collected over the course of 2011.

The amount of trash in these pictures might astonish you, but what’s even more astonishing is that Katy didn’t start saving the items until the Spring of 2011.  So there’s a good four months worth of trash not included in these pictures. On top of that, there were times that the keepers forgot to keep the items for Katy, so those weren’t added to the bags either. I know there were at least three occasions where I forgot to save the trash for Katy, and I threw it away after pulling it from the enclosure.

The contents in this picture are a prime example of why we don't allow balloons on grounds. The outcome could have been very bad if one of our bears had ingested the helium balloon you see in the bag on the right.

There are times when a visitor accidentally drops something in an exhibit and they find a museum staff member to let them know. This is the best thing to do because the staff member will radio the keepers, and it allows us to remove the article from the exhibit as soon as possible.

Above: Here’s a closer look at some of the items we found in the farmyard. The mangled Mountain Dew can you see to the right came from the donkey and goat yard, and clearly it had been chewed on and ripped up by one or all of them. Worrisome for the keepers!

Here’s my personal favorite, and it was found in Lightning the donkey’s stall one morning. Unfortunately it was mixed in with some of his hay and could have been ingested fairly easily. It’s a hair attachment with feathers, and Kent saved this one and has it hanging up above his desk.

It’s nice to see that when our visitors are eating chips and drinking soda, they are trying to be healthy about it. However, these items are not healthy for our animals, even if they are “baked” or “diet”!

Katy has already started collecting exhibit trash for 2012, so watch for the blog post in early 2013 to see what we collected over the course of this year.

 

Join the conversation:

  1. It’s not just things being dropped in that are worrisome. Some of our animals will steal things from guests right off the railings or even from their hands! I rescued many applesauce coated toddler spoons from the donkey and goats last summer and the pigs have stolen plastic snack baggies right through the fencing. I like to ask guests to stand an arms’ length away from the fences if they have food or drinks, just to be safe.

    Posted by Sarah

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by , Keeper
I have been working at the museum since 2003, and I feel fortunate to have a job where I can start my day with amazing animals surrounding me. I enjoy camping, hiking and rock climbing in my spare time when the weather is nice.
I work Tuesday through Saturday and spend a lot of time behind the scenes, but you might find me at a public program or feeding the farmyard animals in the afternoon.

What a prize!

January 4th, 2012

If you visit the museum often, you will soon notice the “new” yellow horse trailer sitting at the entrance of the farmyard. The trailer is not new literally, but it is new to us!  And it was actually given to us as a donation after keeper Sarah did lots of searching on line and in the papers.

We have never had a trailer of this size, but now that we do it will open up a world of opportunities for us to transport our large hoofstock to veterinary facilities or for other animal transfers. The trailer needed a few repairs, and a new paint job, before it could be moved to the farmyard. But now that we have it back from being painted, the farmyard animals will soon start being trained to walk into the trailer and, eventually, travel in it.

The trailer is sitting across from the donkey and goat yard, so they already have the chance to look at it daily and get accustomed to it. According to Sherry, she’s never seen Lightning’s ears move in so many different directions as what they did when he was watching this trailer being moved in!

The fence to the donkey and goat yard is in the background.

 

 

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  1. Good day, This Health/Vet Animal Department article is swell, totally appreciate your articles

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