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GBR Press: Zoo trains torts with berries

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Posted by: W von Papinešu at Mon Dec 20 10:14:51 2010  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by W von Papinešu ]  
   

KINCARDINESHIRE OBSERVER (Montrose, UK) 14 December 10 Zoo trains tortoises with strawberries
A zoo in Devon is claiming to be able train a 30-stone tortoise with patience, strawberries and a red plastic ball on a stick.
Three giant tortoises from the Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles are being taught "positive reinforcement" by keepers at Paignton Zoo Environmental Park.
Keeper Sam Lomax, who is training the male tortoises, said: "We are doing what we call positive reinforcement or target training, which means training them by using treats when they come to a specific target in a specific place.
"It is going really well, with really fast responses from the tortoises and good interest."
Mike Bungard, curator of lower vertebrates and invertebrates, added: "The treat can be something like peaches or tomatoes or strawberries - they love strawberries.
"They seem to like the colour red. The target is red, and when a female VIP came to watch the training, the tortoises followed her feet because she had red nail varnish on."
When the tortoise performs the behaviour the keeper wants, they reinforce the behaviour - in this case, with the sound of a clicker - and then give the tortoise a treat.
The animal builds an association between the click and the treat, so it learns when it hears the click it has performed the right behaviour and a treat will follow.
Dr Vicky Melfi, senior research officer at the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust, which owns the zoo, said the park's research department had helped develop the training schedule.
The three male and four female tortoises arrived at the zoo in 1986 after being confiscated from an illegal shipment by customs officials: the smallest female is now 11 stone - 74 kilos - while the largest male is 30 stone or 196 kilos.
Zoo trains tortoises with strawberries


   

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