Applied Animal Behavior

Welcome to the Applied Animal Behavior section!

Settings: Oceanaria

The concept of an oceanarium where people could come to see trained animals and learn about marine mammals was born in St. Augustine, Florida in the 1930’s. Florida’s Marine Studios, later renamed “Marineland,” was a project started by W. Douglas Burden (great-great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt), Burden’s cousin Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, Count Ilia Tolstoy (grandson of the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy) and Sherman Pratt, who was a descendant of a founder of Standard Oil.

What these founders of the world’s first oceanarium had in common was a love of adventure and the outdoors, a desire to make films, and the money to do it. They wanted to have an indoor ocean where filmmakers could make underwater films and scientists, writers, and artists could come to study sea life.

For decades, Marineland was Florida’s premier tourist attraction. There were two main tanks, a circular tank with a diameter of 75 feet, and a rectangular tank that was 100 feet long and 40 feet wide. Considered an engineering feat that had never been accomplished before, these early tanks were the ancient ancestors of today’s giant aquariums. The modern, open air aquarium at the Atlantis Resort (Paradise Island, Bahamas) is an 11-million gallon marvel that covers 34 acres, and the Georgia Aquarium, claiming to be the world’s largest, houses more than 100,000 marine animals in 8-million gallons.

When marine mammal shows first began, the lives of captive dolphins were a sad existence. Marine Studios advertised “The Educated Porpoise” and while there were some demonstrations of basic training, the same shows were done year after year with little regard for the animal’s living conditions or need for space.

Following the work done by the Brelands in the 1960’s (see History section), Karen Pryor found herself charged with developing the animal training demonstrations for the marine mammals at Sea Life Park in Hawaii. With input from B.F. Skinner, Pryor developed a program that used state-of-the-art behavioral procedures. Pryor’s work (described in her book Lads Before the Wind: Diary of a Dolphin Trainer) led the way to the more sophisticated training we see in aquariums today.

Today’s marine mammal trainers are educated in the use behavioral procedures. They concern themselves with enriching the animal’s environment through both stimuli (e.g., toys) and play sessions and ensuring that living spaces are large enough to provide adequate room for exercise and stimulation. Further, trainers at aquariums now use reinforcement in a manner that keeps animals motivated. This involves understanding schedules of reinforcement, how to cue behaviors, how to use “bridges” and conditioned reinforcers, how to introduce novelty to sessions, how to use the animal’s trained skills to manage health and daily needs, and how to implement programs that teach the animal to make choices regarding preferred reinforcers (via a reinforcement menu).

Sophisticated training techniques based on the principles of applied behavior analysis combined with what we now know about the importance of enrichment result in a more humane lifestyle for animals who live in aquariums and other captive settings.• Jumping on People

Settings: Zoos

As far back as Ancient Egypt, people have been fascinated by wild animals. Egyptians gave wild animals to the pharaohs and the Romans entertained themselves by staging fights between lions, tigers and bears.

In the 13th century, Britain’s King Henry I created the first wild animal menagerie and Henry III brought the first elephant into Britain in the 13th century. In the beginning, wild animals in captivity were mostly private collections, but in the 19th century, wild animals became accessible to the public when zoological collections were opened in London, Paris, and several other major cities. The purpose of these early “zoos” was to simply exhibit animals from around the world. Animals lived in small cages that were very unlike their natural habitats and only basic needs (such as feeding and cleaning cages) were met.

The 1950’s were a time of a “zoo boom” where zoos (still with small enclosures) were built as a source of revenue and the public was encouraged to come and see the animals.

In the 1970’s, as public opinion began to change and the culture became more sensitive about the welfare of animals, the appearance of zoos began to change. Outside areas were provided for animals and by the 1980’s, many zoos were renovating the cages and living spaces for animals. Another major advancement for zoo animals came in the 1980’s when Hal Markowitz introduced the concepts of environmental engineering and environmental enrichment for captive animals.

Since the 1980’s, zoos have developed mission statements that emphasize public education, conservation, the reproduction of endangered species, and animal welfare.

Many modern day zoos have trainers on staff who are trained in operant conditioning, applied behavior analysis and animal behavior. Zoo trainers work to:

  • teach staff how to handle animals. Trainers also develop handling techniques and protocols for the animals (e.g., how do you get an elephant to come inside when you want it to?)
  • teach animals functional skills for their health and care (e.g., such as an elephant lifting its foot on cue to receive foot care, having animals stand for injections or blood checks)
  • enrichment activities (e.g., placing food so that the animal has to forage for it as it would in the natural setting, such as walruses hunting for clams as they would on the sea bottom or polar bears removing fish from blocks of ice).
  • study the relationship between captive animals and their physical and social environments (e.g., does this animal do better with other animals, does the animal do better with more space and free access to outdoors)
  • study behavioral techniques for specific animals-reinforcement schedules, what procedures can be used to manage problem behavior (Time-out is often used to extinguish behavior).
  • reduce animal stress (often through training, play, toys and enrichment activities)
  • provide high quality diets and feeding plans that prevent diet related behavior problems
  • conduct Functional Analyses to determine the most suitable living situations for animals (e.g., does this gorilla do better living with one other gorilla or a group?)

Behavior analysis skills can clearly help zoo caretakers and improve the lives of the animals in their care.

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