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Terrific Training for Our Zookeepers

Yes, we have an outstanding group of Wildlife Ambassadors at The Belize Zoo.  Our Tapirs, Jaguars, the fun Spider Monkeys and Crocodiles, and the rest of the critter clan, all provide an educational and fun experience to our visitors.

However, any zoo with an invaluable animal collection depends on a well-trained and committed zookeeper staff in order to see that things remain sound and healthy.  Our eager zookeepers warmly welcomed a team of colleagues from Milwaukee County and Cheyenne Mountain Zoos. All agreed that the week training and knowledge exchange was a life-changing experience. 

What was covered bringing a different outlook to their zookeeping lives? Diets, zoo enrichment techniques, and animal behavior. The most dramatic teaching events brought the subject of animal training into a new, exciting and practical level. Our Jaguars were the star examples of the benefits which good keeper-to-animal communications can provide.

When our big cats need to be examined, it is often times stressful to use traditional tranquilizing methods which involve darts full of “knock down juice” and shot from a dart gun or blow pipe. This is scary for any animal, and provides a stress level which is unwelcome by everyone involved, especially a jaguar!  Our US colleagues wowed us by demonstrating how a mighty Jaguar can be taught to peacefully accept a needle in its bum with simple positive reinforcement!  The needle-in-the-bum method was taught and then applied to the jaguars by the zookeepers, with no problem at all.

A further surprise to everyone:  In order to entice a jaguar to its appropriate training area, a tried-and-true “bait” was introduced to all by the training crew: Cool Whip!  The benefits of this unusual treat is that there are zero stomach upsets when tranquilizers are used, leading to a smoother vet procedure.

And, how about this for timing?  The week following this stupendous training, Cornell University’s Vet School clinic arrived.  The animal training procedures imparted the week before, brought a level of ease and professionalism for necessary vet operations.

Many more exciting lessons were learnt by both the Belize and US keepers, and great friendships were forged in the shared love and respect everyone had for the amazing animals being cared for. The training ended with all participants feeling empowered and energized, ready for a new year of superb animal care. A big PAWS UP to our Milwaukee and Cheyenne Mountain friends for all their wonderful contributions!

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