Getting on with tapir
03.07.2015Tapirs are not exactly the most active and agile creatures. They look placid and sluggish but in fact easily become agitated and nervous when facing sudden changes in usual pace of life. This makes it difficult to take care of them, and makes animals suffer from simple and inevitable procedures, like transportation or moving to another enclosure. Practice shows that tapirs are at high risk for getting hurt while being transported: when in unknown enclosed space they become agitated, start lashing, and may even hurt themselves.
Every summer we move our senior tapir female to open enclosure, and every winter she goes back to closed enclosure where they stay together with our local star, a giraffe named Samson. But our old girl is extremely stressed even when we simply clean her enclosure or get her outside. She's just afraid! Afraid of unknown smells and sudden sounds, afraid of unusual floor in a new enclosure... So, keepers just lose their time there and can't even clean her enclosure before opening.
Moscow zoo scientists have solved this issue! They used the method of operant learning to get on with our tapir. Together with keepers, they worked out a training system, so that man and tapir could study together. Keepers have learned how to adjust to the tapir, how to let her be in charge, whereas the tapir has learned how to manipulate keepers by making them give her a treat. This way tapir feels in charge, and it makes her calm and confident.
As a result, the tapir got used to moving between enclosures, going outside, and even moved to an open enclosure when summer came. In fact, keepers have noticed that our tapir has become more active and friendly!