By: Kate Budion, Biologist
Back on November 7, we welcomed Sofia and Lola – a pair of critically endangered Orinoco Crocodiles from Dallas World Aquarium. We’re delighted to report that the pair seems to be adapting extremely well in their new home; establishing personal areas and even starting to come out of the water to bask on land.
As the crocodiles become more comfortable with their new surroundings, members of Adventure Aquarium’s Birds and Mammals team (myself included!) have gone to work providing new training exercises. Training is not only a keystone of animal husbandry efforts, but also beneficial to animals by providing stimulation and enrichment – encouraging them to think, while also adding an element of safety for the feeders by allowing more control.
Since Sofia and Lola were not trained prior to coming to Adventure Aquarium, any and all training they’re now getting is brand new for them! And the very first exercise they’re currently working on is a good one – mastering the technique of being target-fed, which involves introducing a simple target stick during feeds to encourage the crocodiles to target to it before being fed.
Ultimately, we would like them to learn that they need to touch the target pole with their snout in order to be rewarded with a fish! Once the crocs have learned this behavior it will be much easier for us keepers to handle and move them around during feeds.
During this training exercise, it takes a total of three biologists to feed the Orinocos. There is one feeder for each crocodile and then a back-up person who is there to monitor the animals’ behaviors and assist when necessary. The back-up must carry a tending pole design to redirect the crocs if they get too close. Each feeder will have a small metal bucket with food in it, a long handled pair of grabbers to hand fish to the crocs with and a long-handled target pole.
Both Sofia and Lola are in the process of learning where to station for feeds and how to approach the feeder for their food. Once they are correctly stationed, the feeder will grab a piece of fish with the long handled tongs, or grabbers, and then place it next to the crocs mouth. The Orinocos should (nicely!) take the fish from the tongs. Eventually the team would like the crocs to target, or touch the target pole with their snout before getting fed.
The training is paying off as the Orinocos are quickly learning good feeding behaviors. Sofia is a fast learner and is responding very well to training sessions. When hungry, she is very quick to station and will even follow the target pole from across the exhibit. Lola is a little more shy and timid. She will come out to eat but usually takes her fish and then runs back to her home with it before coming out for another. She gets braver as the feed goes on, getting closer and closer to her correct station spot.
Our Orinocos are typically fed three days a week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Who knows? Maybe you can catch a feed during your next visit!