How to make a hippo open wide!

Hippo at Flamingo Land
Hippo at Flamingo Land

Training an animal is a skill which is beneficial to both the animal and keeper. It is not something done purely for human entertainment by providing shows, but it can also be used to check the animal’s health, welfare and build the trust between the animal and its keeper. Training can begin at any age, although it is generally easier to do when the animal is young. It is a gradual and sometimes slow process, which requires lots of patience and understanding of the animal’s behaviour.

Some animals may associate a sound, sight of a bucket, or a particular keeper with, for example, getting fed.

This could be classed as a simple form of training because the animal may have learnt that if it comes inside its house when asked, it will be rewarded with food. This can be applied to a whole range of behaviours, so that when the animal does the behaviour you want it to it gets a food reward.

This is called positive reinforcement training, where the animal is only rewarded for the positive behaviour, but is not punished for bad behaviour or not participating in the training. This means that the animal has a choice of whether to participate or not.

Some examples of animals which are trained at Flamingo Land include the hippos to open their mouths so the keepers are able to check that their teeth and mouths are healthy.

Our warthogs are currently in the process of being trained so that the keeper can separate them in their enclosure to make it easier for cleaning.

The tigers are trained to put their paws up against their bars so that the keepers can check that their pads and claws are healthy and not damaged. Our lions also respond to being called into their indoor enclosure to be fed.

Our sea lions and birds which are used in our shows are also trained. The training of the animals in this way provides physical and mental stimulation for the animal and helps to promote natural behaviours it may express in the wild. For example, balancing a ball on a sea lion’s nose requires it to feel the weight and direction of the ball through its whiskers. The sea lion would use similar behaviours in the wild when detecting the location of fish by feeling the ripples travelling through the water.