I returned last month from California and our adventures at the Oakland Zoo. I am finally posting again about our last day when we were able to go behind the scenes and watch Amy and Lisa training with Tiki. She is truly the Grand Dame of the Giraffes. Amy Phelps is the Primary Giraffe Keeper and Lisa Clifton-Bumpass is the Lead Trainer. They work together to using highly refined Positive Reinforcement Training with the Giraffes. We were fortunate enough to be invited behind the scenes to watch them training Tiki.
The teamwork using Positive Reinforcement Training between Amy, Lisa and Tiki was wonderful to watch. They kept the training to short segments and always watched Tiki’s expressions and movements to carefully measure her responses.
Amy would cue for Tiki to touch Amy’s hand. With precise timing Amy would whistle to mark the behavior. The whistle says ‘yes’ to a particular behavior or movement. Usually this signal is given with a clicker to mark the precise moment of a desired behavior, but with the Giraffes, they use a whistle and have their hands free. A different feature from typical reinforcement training with a dog or horse, they had a second person, Lisa, to give the treats to Tiki.
All of Amy and Lisa’s movements were calm, quiet, clear, deliberate, precise and beautifully timed together. When I remarked about their timing and teamwork, both Amy and Lisa spoke about how they really work with their own verbal communication together. Their efforts showed with Tiki responding calmly clearly and while showing curiosity and willingness. I felt like I was watching poetry in motion through training and interspecies communication with a Giraffe!
The timing of every movement is essential. I know from personal experiences with dogs and horses that this is a skill that takes practice!!!! Tiki loves carrots and bananas and has developed quite the affinity for Cinnamon Bread!
In the January-March issue of the TTEAM/TTouch Connections Newsletter, Amy Phelps, the Primary Giraffe Keeper, wrote about the training that goes on in the Oakland Zoo and its purpose:
“At the Oakland Zoo, keepers use a form of TTEAM that is adapted for the use with giraffe calves. Using a combination of positive reinforcement based training techniques and TTEAM, keepers teach calves to be comfortable with touch all over their bodies to facilitate the giraffe’s voluntary participation in the basic medical procedures like dental exams, hoof care, and radiographs. These calves also learn to move through a giraffe adapted TTEAM Confidence Course. Keepers have found that training calves in this way helps to reduce their startle reflex, build their confidence, and build a strong foundation of positive and trusting relationships with people. In order to ensure keeper safety, once the calves are about 1 year old, keepers move to training them through a protected contact system (a barrier separates humans from animals).”
To view pictures of Kahlid as he is going through the confidence course and to read the rest of Amy’s article you can go to TTouch.com and then click on newsletters. Kahlid was born on May 3, 2009. He is the young, beautiful and adorable giraffe in my previous posts from 3-7-09.
As if being able to watch training with Tiki wasn’t special enough in and of itself, we got to visit behind the scenes and watch Linda Tellington-Jones TTouch a 15 year old Elephant Bull!
Although we could not go all the way into the enclosure to watch, we could peek through to watch him lift his leg on cue, rest his leg, and have Linda TTouch the bottom of his foot! He is quite the large fellow! He had one zookeeper giving him treats during his ‘session’ with another trainer towards the rear cuing him to lift his foot for TTouch.
For more about our behind the scenes experiences with the Elephants, see my 3-17-09 Blog post.
I have more adventures yet to be told! Thanks for stopping by. I will keep writing and posting so please come back for more!