BARKS from the Guild November 2017

Page 42

AVIAN

The Long Way Home

Lara Joseph discusses the power of off-contact training, as demonstrated with Koko, the

umbrella cockatoo, who had no access to human contact in his original zoo environment

K

but now regards tactile interaction as one of the most powerful reinforcers

oko is a male umbrella cockahim to the edge of the cage where I too that I was lucky enough to was standing. As he began walking tostart working with in a zoo just wards me I would hand him a larger under two years ago. The first few piece of scrambled egg. I made the times I met him, I would stand at a dispieces larger in order to avoid contance and observe him inside his cage tact with his beak. I began calling him to get a better understanding of him by from side to side, the initial stages of reading his body language. I asked the recall. As I continued teaching this, I other keepers about his history, but got a better read on Koko’s body lanunfortunately much was unknown. I guage and my pieces of scrambled egg noticed, however, that Koko was not became smaller. Through consistency, getting out of his cage like the other predictability and desensitization, I parrots were. When I inquired about was able to get my hands closer to this I was told that it was because he his beak and train a conditioned reinwould start chasing people’s feet along forcer. the floor and would bite them. This is I then taught Koko to station in actually a common, undesirable behavthe center of this perch. I did this beior with many cockatoos. I asked if cause I wanted to be able to open his Koko could fly and was told he did not cage door. I would bridge as soon as – but this did not mean he could not. Koko went to the center of the perch Koko’s initial interactions with humans Again, this is not uncommon in many while I opened the door and delivin his new zoo environment had been paired with aversives, meaning he did birds that were never allowed to ered a larger piece of scrambled egg fledge, a critical time period when they not like to be handled again. I needed that distance between are chicks to learn to fly. my fingers and his beak. Once again, I was teaching Koko that reNext, I inquired how the situation had been handled when quested behaviors brought desired consequences. Koko had been allowed out on previous occasions, and was told Through the sides of the cage bars, I began feeding Koko the keepers would back him in a corner with a broom until he smaller pieces of reinforcers with pine nuts as I continued to obstepped onto a stick. At this point he could be returned to his cage, serve what calm behavior looked like for him. It was soon time or covered with a towel and returned to his cage. It became clear to proceed with training another behavior and I wanted to go to me that, during Koko’s time at the zoo his interactions with hufrom off-contact to protective contact, because I thought, based mans had commonly been paired with aversives, so I agreed to take on my observations, that Koko might find value in being touched. To begin this process I put a perch on the inside of his door on the challenge of working with him. It was my goal to get him out so that if Koko perched on it, I could make contact with him. This of his cage and make it a pleasurable experience for him. To start with, I asked that he not be fed by anyone else other would mark the beginning stages of getting him out of his cage. I than myself. I would come in the mornings and feed him a variety also wanted to see if I was correct in my observation that he might find value in human contact. In placing the perch on his of foods and would stand next to his cage to observe the first things he chose to eat. Items I identified as first to be eaten were door, I would reinforce his station in the middle of the perch alscrambled eggs, corn, peas, and blueberries. The next time I came ready in the cage. The next step was to start teaching Koko to station on the in, I gave him a wide variety of foods but excluding the scrambled perch on his door. I also noticed that the pine nuts were of eggs, corn, peas, and blueberries. Those items were to be given higher value to him than the scrambled egg, so I reinforced the only by me. I told the staff they could begin feeding him again, new station with the pine nuts. with the exception of these items. At the same time, I was dropOnce the new station was trained, I began targeting Koko’s ping a variety of other items in his dish and quickly identified beak to between the cage bars, pushing it through as far as he pine nuts were of high value. could get it while still being comfortable. I trained this in anticiKoko had two perches in his cage, one which ran the entire pation of my being able to open the door and get my hands in to width of the cage. I would hold up the scrambled egg and lure 42

BARKS from the Guild/November 2017


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