Tortoises, Polar Bears, Seals, and Gorillas!

This weekend I am at the Applied Behavior Analysis International conference in Minneapolis.  It's an enormous gathering of about 5,000 behavior analysts from all over the country and the world.  Besides allowing us to all geek out over behavior analysis, it also is a great opportunity to expand our knowledge and remember principles and concepts we haven't thought about since grad school.  The highlight of this conference for me (so far, and I don't really see how it could be trumped) was a visit to Como Zoo in St. Paul.  Our group of ten or so was lead by Christy Alligood from Animal Kingdom at Disney and Allison Jungheim the Senior Keeper/Training Coordinator at Como Zoo.  It was fabulous!! We had a private harbor seal show, got to see them training the polar bears (wow they are ENORMOUS up close!), tortoises targeting a ball and being weighed, and the gorillas' new enclosure and training session. Some things I learned:

  • Polar Bears love eating seal meat but will train for lard sticks as a substitute.  They also apparently go bananas for twinkies so these are used very rarely as jackpots for recalls.  They can also fake being knocked out by a tranquilizer dart- so be very, very careful.  Smart bears.
  • Tortoises can learn to target a stick and follow it around their enclosure.  At least some of them really enjoy rub downs.  Seriously.  Their shells have nerve endings and when the zoo keeper rubbed the shell of one of them, she stopped eating, and raised up as high as she could to get pets under her belly and neck as well. To me, it looked just like a cat arching it's back when being scratched.
  • That gorillas will knock on the glass of their enclosure for the reaction and that the males can get pretty beat up by the dominant male gorillas even when they're still young. :/. On the other hand he was totally digging checking us out as much as we were enjoying seeing him. Very cool stuff.
  • That seals and sea lions are called pinnipeds - so I don't have to keep on remembering if they are harbor seals on sea lions and embarrassing myself by getting it wrong... Also, they are one of the few animals at the zoo that the zoo keepers can train without a barrier.

All-in-all, it was a truly fabulous day.  When I get hoe I will post some videos and photos of the animals- I hope you enjoy them! I certainly did.