Krebs Public School’s 8th grade GEAR UP students recently traveled to Oklahoma City to tour the Oklahoma City Zoo. The tour began at the Rosser Conservation Education Center where Education Instructor Abby Hurt presented the program “Animal Training in Zoos” to the 26 GEAR UP students. Hurt stated animals are ambassadors and assist with saving them. She provided students with valuable information regarding why animals are trained stating it provides mental stimulation, allows the animals to assist with providing services, husbandry (helping them in their day to day lives), assisting with medical purposes as animals do not have the ability to speak and communicate when there is an issue, and also to allow for both keeper and animal safety.
Hurt introduced students to Rascal the ferret. She stated animals have the ability to find methods to alert trainers and other individuals when they do not like situations. Hurt requested Rascal complete an enrichment exercise in which he would play in tubes mimicking natural behaviors of ferrets. Rascal began to move around the table and try to go anywhere but where requested by Hurt, with Hurt eventually alerting to Rascal being uncomfortable in the current situation and being placed back into a familiar setting. Enrichment exercises can assist in various areas as they are social, sensory, cognitive, encourage foraging, manipulation and offer animal choice in their environment.
Hurt discussed two types of training which can be used: behavior modification and operant conditioning. Behavior modification is a classical conditioning which is a non-voluntary form of learning in which the animal responds to a stimulus but the resulting behavior is not learned. During operant conditioning response to the stimulus is based on trial and error thus eliciting a learned response. Hurt stated individuals working with animals at the zoo typically are hired after having obtained Animal Science degrees. Then they continue to receive continuing education through the Oklahoma City Zoo Training Certification increasing skills in animal behavioral modification. Trainers spend time establishing a bond and introducing a bridge with the individual animals they will be working with at the Oklahoma City Zoo.
Students experienced the general idea of animal training by working one-on-one with other students without the use of common language. Students attempted to communicate a requested command without being able to ask the other student to complete the task. Initially students had difficulty;but once the students began to understand the concept of how trainers worked with animals, the students were able to grasp the concept and overcame the obstacles!
Students ate lunch at the East Room where they were provided pizza and soda by Salt and Surrey Catering.
Student Ashley Saavedra said, “I don’t really have a favorite part about the zoo. It was all amazing! I loved everything and all the staff there was really nice!”
“My favorite part about the zoo was hanging out with my friends and all of us having fun and laughing and making memories,” said Juliana Murguia. “I also loved getting to touch birds and letting them fly on me. I felt brave. I had great laughs thanks to GEAR UP.”
Student Lane Johnson added, “My favorite part about this GEAR UP field trip was seeing the tigers. I liked seeing the tigers because I like the pattern they have on their fur. And it was funny because every time the tigers would walk by me they would roar.”
“I could not have asked for a better day,” said GEAR UP Education Coordinator Stephanie Dow. “Hurt did an amazing job engaging students while educating in regards to animal training. It was enlightening to see Krebs students put newfound knowledge to use while utilizing skills obtained during the ‘Animal Training in Zoos’ program. I truly believe the students would have been happy spending all day with Hurt and learning additional methods of training had they been allowed to do so.”
The field trip was sponsored by Eastern Oklahoma State College GEAR UP. Participating schools take two field trips each academic year—one to tour a college or university and one that is cultural/educational in nature. In 2017, Eastern received a $17 million federal GEAR UP grant and will serve over 3,000 students in 39 area schools for seven years.