Elvis and Pugsley may be known for their good looks, but did you know that they’re smart, too? The zoo’s Kunekune pigs are already intelligent animals, and now they’re going to school!
Their school is the barnyard and their teachers are zoo keepers.
Zoo keeper Heather Schuh and section supervisor Laura Sievers train Elvis and Pugsley almost every morning. Schuh and Sievers begin each training session by greeting the animals and inviting them to participate. If the animals choose to train that day, keepers offer treats each time an animal performs a desired behavior (like sitting, turning, or moving indoors). The pigs’ treat is a piece of carrot, which serves as positive reinforcement for the animals. Keepers also follow the desired behavior with a secondary form of reinforcement, like a quiet whistle.
Why train pigs? Behavior management coordinator Holly Walsh explains the benefits, “Training gives the animals a choice to participate, thereby reducing stress for both the animals and their keepers. Training also encourages animals to cooperate in their daily routines and also their veterinary care.” Elvis and Pugsley are learning three behaviors that will help with future vet exams: sit, turn, and hold still. “We use positive reinforcement to teach the animals how to participate in their own care,” says Walsh.
Animal training sessions happen every day at the zoo, and they’re fun to watch! Stop by the Indiana Family Farm on your next zoo trip and ask a keeper if any of the animals are training that day. You might get to watch the pigs go to school.
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