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These are unprecedented times. Share your photos and stories of positivity and resilience to the AKF Editor at shane.good@aazk.org.




137-141 Connections for Conservation: Bringing out the birds Darcy Huismann


Gender Labeling and Behavior: “This Animal Doesn’t Like Men” John Scott



Who’s Teaching Who? Husbandry Training Adventures with Two American White Pelicans Becky Jahns



Comparing Educational Programming and Usage of Single-Use Plastics at Zoos and Aquariums in the United States and Canada

Amy Sarno



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The American Association of Zoo Keepers, Inc. exists to advance excellence in the animal keeping profession, foster effective communication beneficial to animal care, support deserving conservation projects, and promote the preservation of our natural resources and animal life.



Bo is the Hutchinson Zoo's resident burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia). As burrowing owls are one of the few species of diurnal owls, Bo is a friendly and busy bird, finding just the right hole to stow away his food, or perching on a tall branch to survey those below. He sees the keepers long before they see him, holding an intense gaze that belies his small stature. He may only stand about nine inches tall, but each inch is packed with the same hunting prowess and raw power of his larger cousins. Relatively speaking, of course.

Seen somewhat often in Bo's homeland of Kansas, burrowing owls make their homes

in previously dug burrows in and around prairie dog colonies (and other similar arid habitats) where they feed, breed, and raise their young. They rely heavily on these prairie environments, forming mutually beneficial relationships with the nearby colonies. In order to attract insects, they will line the entrances of their burrows with feces, often feeding their lured prey to their offspring. Although they are classified as a species of least concern, the encroachment of human civilization onto grassland environments

is causing their numbers, as well as those of many other prairie species, to dwindle. Many zoos, the Hutchinson Zoo included, are part of the burrowing owl Species Survival Program® (SSP) with the goal of preserving and raising up new generations of these beautiful animals. Although small, these owls play a big role in the preservation of the world's too-often forgotten tallgrass prairie regions. Photo by Molly Foster

Articles sent to Animal Keepers’ Forum will be reviewed by the editorial staff for publication. Articles of a research or technical nature will be submitted to one or more of the zoo professionals who serve as referees for AKF. No commitment is made to the author, but an effort will be made to publish articles as soon as possible. Lengthy articles may be separated into monthly installments at the discretion of the Editor. The Editor reserves the right to edit material without consultation unless approval is requested in writing by the author. Materials submitted will not be returned unless accompanied

by a stamped, self-addressed, appropriately-sized envelope. Telephone, fax or e-mail contributions of late-breaking news or last-minute insertions are accepted as space allows. Phone (330) 483-1104; FAX (330) 483-1444; e-mail is shane.good@aazk.org. If you have questions about submission guidelines, please contact the Editor. Submission guidelines are also found at: aazk.org/akf-submission-guidelines/.

Deadline for each regular issue is the 3 of the preceding month. Dedicated issues may have separate deadline dates and will be noted by the Editor.

Articles printed do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the AKF staff or the American Association of Zoo Keepers, Inc. Publication does not indicate endorsement by the Association.

Items in this publication may be reprinted providing credit to this publication is given and a copy of the reprinted material is forwarded to the Editor. If an article is shown to be separately copyrighted by the author(s), then permission must be sought from the author(s). Reprints of material appearing in this journal may be ordered from the Editor. Regular back issues are available for $6.00 each. Special issues may cost more.

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Elizabeth Thibodeaux, Elizabeth. Thibodeaux@aazk.org ENRICHMENT OPTIONS COLUMN COORDINATORS Stephanie Miner, Julie Hartell-DeNardo,

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Kim Kezer, Jay Pratte, Angela Binney


ANIMAL WELFARE COLUMN COORDINATORS Stephanie Miner, Julie Hartell-DeNardo,

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BOARD OF DIRECTORS AND OVERSIGHTS PRESIDENT: Paul Brandenburger, Paul.Brandenburger@aazk.org

VICE PRESIDENT - Conservation: Nicole Pepo, Nicole.Pepo@aazk.org Ethics Chair

Conservation Committee

Chair: Saul Bauer, Conservation@aazk.org

Vice Chair: Carrie Ellis, Conservation@aazk.org

Bowling for Rhinos Program

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Chair: Jenny Owens, ARC@aazk.org

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BOARD MEMBER - Recognition: James Weinpress, James.Weinpress@aazk.org Awards Committee

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Chair: Sara Morris, Sara.Morris@aazk.org

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Chair: Megan Wright, Megan.Wright@aazk.org

Vice Chair: Tricia Gunther, BHC@aazk.org

Bylaws Program Rebecca Filippini, Rebecca.Filippini@aazk.org

BOARD MEMBER - Communication: Abbie Doan, Abbie.Doan@aazk.org Communication Committee

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National Zoo Keeper Week Program

Program Manager: Jenna Schmidt, NZKW @aazk.org

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Despite all of these difficulties, the increases in outreach and togetherness that has blossomed in some cases cannot be overlooked.


An interesting secret about the President’s message is that it is written over a month before publishing. I am often unable to comment on current affairs as a result of the time delay. The ongoing pandemic means that this will be deviation from the norm. Hopefully the situation has calmed down by the time this message reaches you and it is commenting on the previous events.

Working during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a highly unsettling experience because every important community has been affected. The community within a facility is used to dealing with “essential employee” life. All facilities have plans in place for dealing with closures where the animal care staff pulls together as a team to maintain husbandry and other staff sit tight until they’re needed or pitch in where able. But this is different because all standard plans have gone out the window. Many facilities have completely split working groups or limited exposure to fellow staff members. This means that tight-knit teams that work to ensure strong communication and animal care skills are separated from another in a way that they may have never experienced before. And that doesn’t speak to the non-essential staff and volunteers that are completely separated from their work. A community of coworkers ensures strong professional morale and these fractures can leave us all dispirited.

The impact outside of one’s facility is the distinctly different experience though. The widespread effect on the whole community of zoo keepers and facilities is difficult to perceive. Typically, zoo keepers can turn outward from an emergency situation at home and look at the efforts of other zoos, aquariums, and other organizations and envision the future when you can get back to work as usual. But now when we look out we see that everyone is dealing with a very similar situation to ourselves. And the impact on the non-work related world has made it tough to fully relax on days off. Limiting gatherings with friends and family and following the constant updates to an evolving situation can be overwhelming.

Despite all of these difficulties, the increases in outreach and togetherness that has blossomed in some cases cannot be overlooked. Organizations have increased their connectivity with online resources, local areas have supported groups as they call out for support, and many individuals have done their part in helping to protect those most at risk. And the world of animal care has joined in on these efforts. Online learning activities and video series have been sent out by many zoos and aquariums to continue spreading their messages to the public. Fundraisers in support of the ongoing animal care practices have found support from passionate people. Staff members have pulled together to support one another in whatever way possible during a time of great strain. And this work buoys me and instills a confidence that all communities will endure and grow stronger in turn.


Fel HO

Paul Paul.Brandenburger@AAZK.org



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Darcy Huismann,

Team Lead of the Shows and Ambassadors Animal Team

Kansas City Zoo, Kansas City, Missouri


Zoos have historically existed for entertainment, research, and more recently, education (Smith, Broad, & Weiler, 2008). In the 1990’s, many factors such as animal rights activists, the animal welfare movement,

and moral justification of zoos and aquariums began to push for zoos to strive towards conservation, action, and awareness (Smith, et al., 2008). Today, Zoos exist with the four mains goals of education, conservation, entertainment, and research (Carr & Cohen, 2011; Roe, McConney, & Mansfield, 2014). This shift, or addition, of concentrations has not altered the overall goal of providing entertainment to zoo visitors. Studies have been done that demonstrate an increase in entertainment value can increase the educational takeaway (Dilenschneider, 2017). Focusing on just one of the four aspects does not assist in meeting the overall goals of U.S. zoo institutions. There are a number of roles that must be filled in today’s society

by these facilities (Roe, McConney and Mansfield, 2014). Current research

has shown that the public eye and zoo facility missions do not always align

in terms of fulfilling said roles (Roe, et al., 2014). However, one thing remains consistent; the public, and the zoo, seek education and conservation messaging that can be brought home and translated into everyday life (McConney and Mansfield, 2014).

In general, visitors attend zoo facilities for entertainment. However, zoos and aquariums are continually striving

Blue and gold macaw. Photo by Bill Araujo.

to increase their educational and conservation reach to encourage the average zoo guest to make a difference in our world today. One of the best ways to instill effective educational practices is through the use of entertainment. Education and entertainment can be used in conjunction to strengthen one another and increase the value of a zoo visitor's daily experience at any given institution (Dilenschneider, 2017). The Australia Zoo surveyed their visitors after a flighted bird show demonstrated a conservation message about recycling and cleaning up roadways (Smith, et

al., 2008). Visitors were questioned regarding their likeliness to increase or begin conservation actions at home post

bird presentation and interaction (Smith,

et al., 2008). This study concluded that human-animal interactions are more likely to evoke personal emotion and willingness to change personal practices at home (Smith, et al., 2008).

Positive emotional experiences at a zoological institution strengthen a visitor’s experience and likeliness

to return in the future (Powell & Bullock, 2014). These emotional experiences can be encouraged through human-animal interactions (Mann, Ballantyne, and Packer, 2017). Ina 2017 study, animal interactions were incorporated with promoting at home conservation strategies that visitors could participate in, post zoo visit (Mann, et al., 2017). Almost 50% of the survey respondents said they had made a positive conservation change in their lives attributing towards that human-animal interaction experience at the facility (Mann, et al., 2017). These unique human-animal interactions are the actions zoo institutions should be striving for to increase the impact their

Athos accepting donations. Photo by Darcy Huismann

a. The author working with Athos. Photo by Bill Araujo.

conservation messages are having on the visiting public (Powell & Bullock, 2014).

The following research done at the Kansas City Zoo explores the use of a blue and gold macaw (Ara ararauna) to assist zoo visitors in making a monetary donation towards the zoo’s conservation fund. This is creating a human-animal interaction that could directly increase conservation funding.


The target population was any zoo visitor seeking to donate money to the Kansas City Zoo Conservation Fund that attended any two of the daily Wings of Wonder bird shows. Data were collected between the dates of 01 October 2017 and 09 April 2018. Data collection was only considered complete if two sets of data were collected in one day. One show, morning or afternoon, had the bird present and taking donations while the opposite show time only had the collection box standing alone. To minimize variability, one trainer worked the bird while donations were collected; the same trainer collected data at both shows; and only one bird took donations for the duration of the study.

The bird taking donations was trained a year prior to the data collection start.

A four-year-old blue and gold macaw named Athos was trained to take dollar donations from zoo visitor guests’ hands. Each dollar is folded one or two times and handed directly to the bird’s beak. The blue and gold macaw then takes the dollar and inserts it into a pre-cut hole in the top of the donation box. Once the donation is collected, and placed inside the box, the bird receives a treat, or reward, for doing the correct behavior.

At the conclusion of each show, a conservation message was given to encourage zoo visitors to donate to the zoo’s general conservation fund. The conservation fund donates money towards projects such as Polar Bears International, Cheetah Conservation Fund, Amphibian Arc, and many

more (Kansas City Zoo, 2017). The conservation message remained the same throughout all Wings of Wonder bird shows. The only difference to the closing conservation message was additional directions for donating if the bird was taking donations.

The Wings of Wonder show times were 1130 and 1430 daily. The bird was present for half of the collection

May 2020 | Vol. 47 No.5 | 139

Donations Per Visitor




Donated to Bird

Deanated ta Box

Graph 1: Average donations per visitor through bird donations, box donations, and combined donations. There was a total of 41 trials with 3376 visitors producing an average of $0.21 per visitor.

times at the morning show and the other half in the afternoon show. The conservation box stayed the same, in the same location, and monitored by the same individual regardless of whether the bird was taking donations or not. At the beginning of each Wings of Wonder bird show, the audience count was documented and noted if additional guests joined throughout the show.

At the conclusion of each show, the monetary amount collected during that specific show was recorded.


The data indicate more audience members during bird collection shows compared to the stand alone box collection shows. The total number of guests present during box collection was 1369 while the total number of guests present during bird collection was 2032. The total number of money donated during box donation was $169.71 and the total number of money donated during bird collection was $560.00. To eliminate any potential data number discrepancies simply due to audience size, the average dollar amount per guest was calculated and utilized for data analysis. These numbers are $0.12 per visitor with box collection and


$0.28 per visitor during bird collection. Graph 1 is an illustration that shows

the combined number of donations collected per visitor, the donations collected per visitor with bird collection, and the donations collected per visitor through box collection.

There were multiple shows during February, March, and April where there were audience member numbers of zero, which in turn gave a monetary donation number of zero. There were also very small shows that produced zero donations whether the bird was present or not.


The performed two sample t-test, assuming equal variances, produced

a p-value less than or equal to 0.05,

thus proving the need to reject the null hypothesis. This null hypothesis stated that there would be no significant difference between the amount of donations given between the bird shows utilizing the blue and gold macaw or

the stand alone donation box. Table 1 shows the t-test values for the monetary amount donated per visitor and the found P value.


There was a significant increase in conservation donations when there was direct human-animal interaction. The general trend showed higher audience numbers during the morning bird show. This is potentially due to a large portion of the visitors attending the Wings of Wonder bird show on their way into

the zoo, as opposed to on their way

out of the zoo. The audience numbers doubled, which can have an effect on the monetary amount of donations flowing in. However, despite an increased audience number, the monetary donations were consistently higher during the show of the day that had the

t-Test: Two-Sample Assuming Equal Variances

Donations Given to Bird vs. Box

Bird Mean 0.391996591 Variance 0.347405655 Observations 41

Pooled Variance 0.188428508

Hypothesized Mean Difference | 0

df 80

t Stat 2.993336466 P(T<=t) one-tail 0.001834849

t Critical one-tail 1.664124579 P(T<=t) two-tail 0.003669698

t Critical two-tail 1.990063421

Box 0.105016407 0.02945136 41

Table 1: T-test and p values of donations given to the bird versus donations given to the box during collections. The P(T<=t) two-tail rejects the null hypothesis.

bird present and collecting donations.

Donations typically followed a conservative trend, multiple families donating two to three dollars. Occasional outliers included a couple of $20 bills collected throughout the research period and a handful of $10 bills donated. One extremely generous individual donated a $100 bill during one of our more intimate 1130 bird shows with the bird present and taking donations. These generous donations had an impact on monetary amount per visitor for those particular shows.

Comparing the monetary amount

per visitor while the bird was taking donations versus the box collection, there was twice as much donated with the bird present. During box donations, there was an average of $0.12 donated per individual while during the bird collection, an average of $0.28 per individual. The average monetary amount more than doubled while audience members were interacting with a live bird.


Facilitating an interaction between a zoo visitor and an animal clearly creates a strong connection that leads people

to want to contribute more towards conservation. When someone can interact with an animal, a connection is

made. There is an emotional response that creates a connection between

that animal and the message being conveyed. Research shows that having physical interactions can strengthen those emotional responses and, in turn, can create at home differences that are geared towards conservation issues. As shown in this study, when visitors had the opportunity to interact with a live bird, they were more than twice as likely to donate towards the conservation zoo fund at the Kansas City Zoo.

Here, results showed that having a

blue and gold macaw take donations directly from visitors' hands generated an increase in the overall donations made towards conservation. Associating an animal interaction with donating to conservation is one tool that can be used when working on improving the reach of conservation efforts. This study shows the potential of having a bird taking donations at every show to increase donations towards the conservation projects that the Kansas City Zoo supports all around the world. This

can be extended to other institutions wanting to increase their funds towards conservation. We as humans are the only species on this planet that can ensure future generations of others, so we should do our part and try to make this world a better place for all living creatures surviving off this land. {P*

Literature Cited

Carr, N., and Cohen, S. 2011. The public face of zoos: Images of entertainment, education and conservation. Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of the Interactions of People & Animals, 24(2), 175-189. doi:10 .2752/175303711x12998632257620

Dilenschneider, C. 2017. How to leverage education value to increase visitation to culture organizations (DATA). Data & Analysis.

Kansas City Zoo. Conservation Archive. 2017. Retrieved November 25, 2017, from https://www.kansascityzoo.org/ conservation/

Mann, J., Ballantyne, R., and Packer, J. 2017. Penguin promises: encouraging aquarium visitors to take conservation action. Environmental Education Research 0:0, pages 1-16.

Powell, D., and Bullock, E. 2014. Evaluation of factors affecting emotional responses in zoo visitors and the impact of emotion on conservation mindedness. Anthrozoés 27:3:389-405.

Roe, K., McConney, A., and Mansfield,

C.F. 2014. The Role of Zoos in Modern Society—A Comparison of Zoos, Reported Priorities and What Visitors Believe They Should Be.

Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 27(4), 529-541. doi:10.2752/08927931 4x14072268687808

Smith, L., Broad, S., and Weiler, B. 2008.

A closer examination of the impact of zoo Visits on visitor behaviour. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 16(5):544. doi:10.2167 /jost817.0

Swanagan, J.S. 2000. Factors influencing zoo Visitors’ conservation attitudes and behavior. The Journal of Environmental Education 31.4: 26-31.

May 2020 | Vol. 47 No.5 | 141

Gender Labeling and Behavior: “This Animal Doesn’t Like Men”

John Scott, Wild Animal Keeper

Wildlife Conservation Society Central Park Zoo

New York, NY


All too often in the wildlife industry,

we are presented with situations that test both our patience and abilities

as professionals in the field. A gorilla may charge at the bars towards a male zookeeper, a hornbill may fly at the

face of a female trainer, or an eagle bates away from a male educator. In such trying times, phrases like “that bird doesn’t like men” or “that gorilla doesn’t like women” become incredibly common to hear at zoos and aquariums all over the country. But in dissecting these familiar idioms, do these animals actually express a preference or distaste towards one gender over the other? These sayings can become labels that we affix to animals, masking our own inabilities to break down behaviors. Labels can quickly develop into crutches that are used to “explain” behavior. Alternatively, gender may become a conditioned stimulus for behaviors

like biting or charging, behaviors that have been given the construct label “aggressive.” In either case, while

Angel Ocasio and Katy. Photo courtesy of Judy Lobo Wolfe


working with animals that “don’t

like” a particular keeper may seem like a daunting task, through positive interactions, relationships can be built despite an animal’s preferences fora particular gender.

Labels and Constructs

At a most basic level, phrases like “that bird doesn’t like men” are labels that are affixed to animals in an attempt

to accurately assess and describe behavior. Despite best intentions, these labels or constructs, often

go “beyond simple description of observed behaviors into the realm of hypothetical explanations for why an animal behaves as it does” (Friedman, 2014). Examples of this phenomenon include birds biting because they are aggressive, or bating because they

do not like women. These constructs are problematic because they are intangible descriptions and therefore are not hypotheses that can be tested with the scientific method. In addition, these constructs that are used to describe animals often times foster and can become self-fulfilling prophecies (Friedman, 2014). An animal that is labeled as being aggressive towards men will cause male trainers to act differently around that particular animal. By labeling an animal, it provides an easy excuse to surplus

or get rid of that animal. And more importantly it provides an excuse for professionals to throw in the towel and give up, instead of working on a strategy to combat problem behaviors towards a particular gender (Friedman, 2014). If trainers do continue to work with that specific animal, it can often

lead to ineffective training strategies that utilize the mentality of “showing the animal who’s boss” (Friedman, 2014). By labeling an animal, it either serves to promote sloppy training, or cease working with that particular animal entirely.

Constructs are particularly dangerous because they are intangible concepts that are attached to animals that are constantly demonstrating tangible behaviors. Constructs are “abstractions by definition, and abstractions cannot cause behavior” (Friedman, 2014).

In order to analyze these labels, we need to describe clearly observable behaviors and the conditions that both set the scene for the behavior to occur and reinforce it. However intangible these constructs may be, they are often utilized as a coverall for a multitude of behaviors that are observed over the course of one’s professional career. It is common to hear terms like, “height dominant”, “gender dominant” or “food dominant” used to describe animals

in captive settings. However, instead

of using a construct like being “height dominant”, one might describe the tangible, observable behavior of a bird not stepping up from a higher perch when the glove is offered. A familiar construct to many animal professionals might be that a particular animal “doesn’t like men”. Instead of using that particular label, the behavior could

be more scientifically described as “screaming when a particular trainer approaches” or, “bates more frequently for male trainers”. By analyzing the observable behavior and the conditions that support it, we can develop a

training solution and a sweeping generalization or intangible construct can be avoided.

More problems are created than are being solved by using construct labels rather than a behavioral description. One such issue is that an animal having a preference for a particular gender

is a vague concept that is open to interpretation by each trainer. In theory, all observers would see the same thing and behavior would not be open to interpretation by any trainer (Insalaco, 2005). Not all trainers could agree that a specific animal doesn’t like men, however they could all agree that the animal tends to bate more for men than for women, thereby assessing the behavior and not ascribing to a construct. What one trainer “sees as aggression, another might see as fear, and yet another might see as hunger” (Insalaco, 2005). One trainer deciding that a hawk doesn’t like women might not look the same to another trainer, they might interpret

it as something completely different. Usually when we are using constructs to describe an animal, “we are just making an assumption as to what the animal is thinking based on some other behavior we are seeing” (Insalaco, 2005). By using labels, wildlife professionals are treading into dangerous territory by anthropomorphizing the animals in their care. It encourages and justifies trainers and keepers thinking for their animals and analyzing hypothetical thoughts or emotions, instead of training tangible behaviors (Insalaco, 2005). Constructs essentially limit professionals by allowing them to assess behavior in broad, intangible terms instead of focusing on changing the behaviors that they are seeing on a daily basis.

When examining the use of constructs in regards to animals, the natural question arises as to why wildlife professionals use these labels to begin with? Is the use of these terms simply an extension of human nature (Insalaco, 2005)? Usually the labels utilized and the conclusions that are often jumped to reflect the way humans feel or think in that particular situation. Instead of an animal not

liking a specific gender, they could be responding to a number of antecedents in the surrounding environment that

set the stage for the behavior being labeled as “not liking” that particular

trainer or their gender. In recognizing that construct, professionals can start seeking out ways to avoid labeling their animals. The simplest way would “be to use the verb ‘to do’ when asking yourself questions about the animals’ behavior” (Insalaco, 2005). By constantly asking “what is the animal doing”, one can avoid anthropomorphizing an animal and thinking that one can get inside their head and know what they are thinking. Upon hearing another professional using a label to describe an animal, instead ask “what does that look like” and have them describe the behavior in depth instead of utilizing generalizations. It is important to remember that behavior

Cory Scott and Margaretta. Photo courtesy of Cory Scott Ra lea age d = oe eB i f rh 7a

does not exist in a vacuum and therefore the environment plays a huge role in behavior (Insalaco, 2005). By using these techniques, constructs like animals not liking gender can be replaced by descriptions of observable behaviors and related conditions instead.

Science Behind the Label

Using descriptive analyses of behavior, one might still find that a bird bates away more frequently from men ora gorilla charges towards a female keeper more often than towards men. Avoiding labels, one might still wonder why

these behaviors occur more frequently towards a particular gender. To properly

May 2020 | Vol. 47 No.5 | 143

answer that question, one must delve into the causes of those particular behaviors. At a fundamental level, a stimulus is triggering the bating or charging behavior. A stimulus can be described as “any event that affects,

or is capable of affecting, behavior” (Friedman, 2014). When these stimuli influence the behavior it precedes, then they can be described as antecedent events. Conversely, when the stimuli affect the behavior it follows, they are called consequent events (Friedman, 2014). However, today’s consequent events may eventually develop into tomorrow’s antecedent events, because no behavior exists in a vacuum. A new trigger or elicitor, called a conditioned stimulus (CS) can be developed by, “close, repeated pairing of a neutral stimulus with an existing elicitor” (Friedman 2014). Gender can become a conditioned stimulus for behaviors that are labeled as “aggressive” or

“not liking men” based on repeated pairing to an existing elicitor. Those unwanted behaviors then become conditioned responses to the gender of the particular trainer (Friedman, 2014). While avoiding constructs like animals “not liking” a particular gender, one may still find that gender perhaps is a conditioned stimuli for many undesired behaviors.

Unconditioned stimuli and their responses fall under the category of respondent behavior, which refers

to the fact that these behaviors are innate and fully functional the first

time they are performed, even without previous experience to the eliciting stimulus (Friedman, 2014). Examples

of these instinctive responses include

a fly landing on a dog’s ear and the

ear twitching or a puff of air which is directed at an eye, causing the eye to blink. These respondent behaviors occur independently of consequences, and therefore the consequences do not affect the future strength of the behavior (Friedman, 2014). As mentioned before, one can create a new elicitor - conditioned stimuli - by repeatedly pairing the neutral stimulus with the existing elicitor. This type of stimulus-stimulus learning is responsible for behavioral examples

like Pavlov’s dogs. The conditioned stimulus was the sound of the tone ringing which triggered the conditioned response of the dogs salivating. This

respondent learning is also responsible for things like respondent fear, where

an antecedent stimulus that triggers

fear can be learned through respondent conditioning (Friedman, 2014).The behavior that many label as “fear” (bating, charging) is developed over time through conditioning by pairing a neutral stimulus to an aversive experience. Therefore if a rehabilitation bird is repeatedly grabbed by males, then the male gender can become the new conditioned stimulus that triggers the respondent fear. The label of that particular bird not liking men is inherently a hypothetical concept; the observable “fear” (charging, banging on the sides of enclosures) may have been a conditioned stimulus through repeated pairings of the male gender with the unpleasant experience of being caught up.

While gender may be classically conditioned through repeated pairings with an aversive situation, the behavior that we see also falls under an operant umbrella. Under operant conditioning, behaviors are dependent on the consequences that follow (Friedman, 2014). Behaviors that the animal finds successful are repeated, and behaviors that do not work are modified or suppressed (Friedman, 2014). While a bird of prey bating away from a male trainer or a gorilla charging the mesh at a male keeper may have been classically conditioned through pairing the male gender with a negative experience, there is also some operant learning involved. Something is reinforcing the behaviors that the animal is exhibiting, otherwise those observable behaviors would have gone extinct over time. The gorilla charging or banging the sides of their enclosure at male keepers might have been reinforced for doing so because each time the gorilla charges male keepers, those keepers might have left the area. The removal of the undesired keepers serves to potentially reinforce the behavior of charging (if the behavior is maintaining or increasing in frequency). This would fall under the category of negative reinforcement (R°), because the removal of the male keeper (negative) serves to increase the frequency (reinforce) of the gorilla charging that keeper (Friedman, 2014). Therefore while the behaviors that get labeled as “not liking” (charging, etc) could be classically conditioned, they also fall under the operant scope due

Adam Geltz and Boston. Photo courtesy of Natural Encounters Inc. and WOW Magic

to the unintentional reinforcement of undesired behaviors.

What Can Be Done?

All hope is not lost if an animal has been conditioned to respond negatively to a certain gender through respondent learning. There are several methods of varying severity that can help mitigate the respondent fear caused by the new eliciting stimulus. The first is through systematic desensitization where, “a conditioned emotional trigger (fear)

is extinguished by gradually exposing the animal to the stimulus” (Friedman, 2014). For an animal that responds negatively to a certain gender, one would start with small interactions with the animal and a staff member that is affected by this respondent fear, and gradually increase the duration and frequency of these interactions.

In order to do so, one must establish

a stimulus hierarchy that creates

a scale from no fear response, to situations that elicit extreme responses (Friedman, 2014). Once the animal

is exposed to that first step on the hierarchy and presents behavior deemed “relaxed”, then the next step is presented. However, special care must be taken to not elicit the fear response at any level of exposure (Friedman, 2014). Therefore, through gradual exposure to a certain gender, one could hopefully combat a conditioned fear response to that particular staff member and their gender.

Other techniques to deal with conditioned responses exist. Firstly there is counter-conditioning where

an animal’s conditioned response to a stimulus is replaced with an opposite reaction (Friedman, 2014). This method of combating conditioned stimuli

can also be partnered with positive reinforcement, thereby reinforcing

the calm behavior after exposure to a stimulus. For example, if a dog is afraid of the sound of a vacuum, then the sound could be paired instead with food. With an animal that presented a fear response to a particular gender, men for instance, then food should be presented to the animal every time a male trainer interacts with them. However, this tactic can only occur if the new stimulus (food) triggers a response powerful enough

to supplant the problem response, in this case being fear (Friedman, 2014).

If the new stimulus does not