Newsletter October 2018

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October 2018

Boo at the Zoo: Spooky Animal Attractions

This October is a great time to visit your local zoo and check out the spooky animals that get less attention during the rest of the year, such as bats, snakes and frogs. This month, we’re highlighting four of the most festive zoo celebrations:

1.     Boo at the Bronx Zoo

The Bronx Zoo is carrying on their Halloween tradition this year with their annual event, “Boo at the Zoo.” For a full month, the zoo will host haunted hayrides, pumpkin carvings, and a Halloween costume parade. The month of October will be packed with festive activities getting children – and adults – interested in learning about the animals that live there.

One exhibit, Animal Treats, will allow visitors to hear from expert keepers about animal enrichment for bears, bats, and reptiles. Another event, Bird Meet and Greet, will showcase owls, vultures, and other spooky birds. All in all, the Bronx Zoo is taking full advantage of the Halloween season to teach the public about their animals and get people excited about going to the zoo.

2.     Memphis Zoo Boo

At the Memphis Zoo, seven nights in October mark a Halloween tradition that gets residents of Tennessee excited about seeing animals. Events include Sting Ray Bay, Camel Rides, and Creepy Critters. The zoo uses Halloween as a time to bring attention to otherwise less popular creatures such as reptiles, which can come across as creepy to many visitors.

3.     Creatures of the Night at Zoo Tampa

Zoo Tampa takes its spooky animal attractions seriously, giving its audience a peek into something zoo visitors rarely ever get the chance to see: what the zoo animals do at night. After the sun goes down, visitors will get to observe the nighttime habits of the zoo animals. Nocturnal animals that are normally asleep when visitors arrive will be active and ready for action. All of these animal enclosures will be illuminated for nighttime viewing and Zoo Tampa will also put on a special animal show.

In addition, Zoo Tampa will showcase elephants and orangutans with their special Halloween-themed enrichment. One popular event is elephant pumpkin smash, where elephants do just that – smash pumpkins!

4.     Boo at the Brookfield Zoo

In Chicago, the Brookfield Zoo hosts a variety of spooky Halloween events, including presentations about many of their animals such as bats, wolves, spiders, owls, scorpions, snakes, and ravens. This provides an opportunity for zookeepers to talk about the animals and educate the public about their lives.

Additionally, the Brookfield Zoo provides pumpkin-themed enrichment to many of their non-spooky animals such as bears, orangutans, gorillas, hippos, hogs, reindeer, lemurs, and even dolphins. As an outreach event, the spooky presentations are great for getting the public involved with the zoo while keeping animals enriched and happy.

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Clicker Training: What Chris Pratt Got Wrong

If you know anything about animal training, you probably laughed at the “clicker training” that Owen (Chris Pratt) was using with the velociraptors in Jurassic World. While Owen claims he is an animal behaviorist, ABI students were likely able to spot the inaccuracies in the way that clicker training is used in the movie.

For those who don’t know, clicker training is a method of animal training that allows trainers more precision when working with an animal. The animal learns to associate the clicking sound with a reward. Then, as the trainer is working, they can let the animal know immediately when they have done something right by clicking. This is more effective than rewarding the animal with a treat, as the time it takes to give the treat to the animal may cause a gap between the desired behavior and the reward, confusing animals as to what it was that earned them the treat.

Most animals learn to associate one single click with the knowledge that they have done something right and are about to be rewarded. This is why Owen’s repeated clicking at the velociraptors seemed so silly. In traditional clicker training, a trainer would never do multiple clicks in a row, but would simply do one click when the animal had completed the correct behavior. Multiple clicks would confuse an animal that had been trained in the traditional clicker training method, and would not be conducive to advancing the animal’s training. It might even cause the animal to lose the association between the click and the treat.

There are several methods that animal trainers may use to train their animals. First, the trainer must teach the animal to associate the clicking sound with a treat. As an initial step, one might click, and then give an animal a treat without first asking the animal to do a behavior. Repeating this several times would cause most animals to associate the sound with the reward.

Next, some trainers will start clicking when an animal is naturally doing a desired behavior. For example, they might click every time their dog sits. Over time, the dog would learn that sitting caused a click and therefore a treat. (This video shows an example of a dog learning to sit using clicker training). Others might teach their animal a trick by starting small and gradually getting closer and closer to a desired behavior.

One example of this second approach is that to teach a dog to jump through a hoop, a trainer might first lay the hoop on the ground and encourage the dog to step through it, clicking when the dog did so. The trainer might start lifting the hoop ever so slightly until it was standing up and the dog walked through it, clicking every time the dog went through the hoop. Once the dog had that down, the trainer would lift the hoop in the air. By that time, the dog would know that going through the hoop earned a treat, and they would jump through the hoop.

Clicker training is generally seen as a positive way to train animals as it involves only positive reinforcement: rewarding the animal for desired behavior. It can be used for a range of animals including dogs, cats, birds, and more. It can also be used to correct unwanted behavior in a more positive way. For example, many pet owners will click when their puppy relieves itself in the correct spot rather than scolding them when they go on the carpet. This method can be just as effective as the alternative and will still teach pets what the desired behavior is.

Communities and Social Groups in Primates

Primate behavior is some of the most fascinating in the animal kingdom due to both the intelligence of primates and the similarity of non-human primates with humans. Gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans all live in complex social groups with a variety of social structures in place dictating the way that individuals interact with each other. How are these groups formed and what similarities do they have to social groups and behavior in humans? Read on to find out.

Many primate communities live in large groups in order to help protect themselves against predators such as cats, dogs and hyenas. These large groups can also help protect scarce food resources, particularly when the food is fruit. In comparison, species that eat leaves, such as langurs, often form smaller groups because there is less competition for their food.

Often, these primate communities are fairly closed off from other communities, with limited contact between individuals from other groups. Part of the reason for this is that groups are often formed within a particular physical space, and members rarely venture outside of this space during their lives.

In fact, different communities generally avoid each other and are aggressive towards outsiders. This aggression prevents high concentrations of individuals of a species, which might cause rapid decline in resources in a particular area.

When different groups do come into contact, it can sometimes be due to a specialized territorial defense behavior. The groups converge near their common territorial border and make hostile displays towards the opposite group. This is common in howler monkeys, indris, siamangs, and gibbons, which all produce extremely loud vocalizations for this purpose. This ritual is essentially harmless, but is intended to intimidate members of the neighboring community. Scientists believe the reason for this is that the home territories for these species are generally small enough that neighboring food resources can be seen and become attractive.

One exception to this rule is found in chimpanzees. Different groups of chimpanzees are often excited to come together and are friendly towards one another. When two different groups meet, it is not uncommon for a few adult females to switch groups. Despite this, however, there are occasions when contact between chimpanzee communities can erupt into violence.

Within the same group, interactions between individuals are unlimited. All members of a community have daily communication. Though subgroups may form (most often consisting of a mother and her offspring), they are rarely closed off from group interaction. These groups function like extended families or large communities and form an integral part of social behavior in non-human primates.

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Top 5 Most Bizarre Animal Behaviors

1.     Naked Mole Rats: The Backwards Run

One of the strangest animals in the animal kingdom is the naked mole rat, which is neither a mole nor a rat. (Naked mole rats are actually a type of guinea pig.) The naked mole rat is famous (or infamous?) for its ability to run backwards as fast as it can run forwards, even in the dark, completely blind.

However, the naked mole rat appears first on our list with a bonus bizarre behavior: like a queen bee, the queen mole rat is the only female mole rat to breed and bear young. Even more strange, in order to make sure she is the only one to breed, the queen mole rat will push other female mole rats around to cause them stress, releasing hormones that make them unable to procreate. Learn more about the naked mole rat’s strange behaviors in this video.

2.     Cuckoo Birds: Slacking Parents

Cuckoo birds have a strange and somewhat lazy approach to parenting where they do not build a nest or raise their own young at all, but rather drop their eggs into another bird’s nest once the other birds have gone out, in hopes that the other bird will take care of them. To ensure that their babies are taken care of, the cuckoo bird will often drop the other species’ eggs out of the nest so that only her babies remain. Cuckoo birds find a new nest to drop their surprises into each breeding season.

3.     The Ugly…Zebra Finch?

Unlike the cuckoo bird, the zebra finch takes particular care with its eggs and nestlings, and employs a rather unique strategy in helping them blossom. Most birds lay smaller eggs when their mates are unattractive. However, zebra finches have been known to lay larger eggs in this situation, providing more nutrients and more room to grow. This strategy gives the nestling the best start possible to make up for its potential shortcomings.

4.     Don’t Cross a Crow

One of the smartest animals in the animal kingdom, the crow has been known to perform impressive feats including making and using tools to help them accomplish a task. Most ominously, some crows have been able to recognize individual human faces, and remember people that they have seen before. This means that crows can and do hold grudges against humans who have upset them. In fact, scientists have recorded crows dive-bombing those that they associate with a truly bad memory.

5.     Parrots Name Their Infants

Although it may sound far-fetched, scientists have discovered that many parrots “name” their babies shortly after they are born. Infant parrots tend to respond to very specific peeps from other birds, and parrots also learn the peeps associated with their family members. Studies have shown that these peeps are learned, not genetic, and that adult parrots are the ones to assign specific calls or “names” to their young. This adorable behavior goes to show how intelligent and social these animals are.

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