When it comes to teaching and maintaining desirable behaviors with animals, a positive trusting relationship is the first ingredient. Currently, we are working on building a trusting relationship with Wicket, our new hippo from the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. She is shy, but does respond to special treats like cantaloupe, popcorn, and bread. Unlike Zambezi and Kasai, Wicket backs away from touch and has been slow to respond to us, her new keepers. While at the Brookfield Zoo she was trained to open her mouth on command, she has continued to demonstrate this behavior, which is a good start. She does allow keepers that she’s "comfortable with", to scratch her tongue and brush her teeth. As with most trained animals, practice makes perfect, so we will continue to practice this behavior with her while we work on building a trusting relationship.
Our overall training goal with Wicket is to instill the same behaviors Kasai and Zambezi illustrate including: stationing, target training, refining the open mouth behavior to allow for proper oral care, and doing some A to B work with her as well. We will post a short blog defining what each behavior consists of and why we train the specific behaviors later this week.
We have our work cut out for us, but with time and patience we anticipate Wicket to be a happy hippo here at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.