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Monday, July 23, 2007

Sit Boy, Sit!

Last weekend, I had flown to absurd peaks of joy and back. Volunteering at the animal training/show section is quite out-of-this-world.
T’was very nice to rekindle the friendship with those keepers again, after being absent for so long…. They’re forever welcoming, glad to have me and eager to show me their show animals and the advancements they made to better their ‘performers’’ well-being.

Mahat is the head trainer, Christopher the animal-hospital-attendant-turned-animal show-emcee & trainer, Hassan the commentator, VJ the keeper/assistant trainer plus other keepers are the few responsible for the shows that take place everyday at Zoo Negara.
Animal training must be the toughest job there is to exist. Because it takes a genius to teach another.
If you think controlling animal psyche is a piece of cake, sometimes you turn into the cake yourself. You require a lot of know-how, and common sense really, plus time of course. If patience is not your virtue, then I suggest you just settle for feeding the hippos.
Frankly, I’m not a fan of animal shows neither can I remain unaffected watching an animal go through ‘training’ without going through hell. Ah, beating an animal is what I staunchly stand against…You see, strangely I can smack a child but animals, (dogs, mice, snakes you name it) they always get away with beating ME up.
Every few minutes geram ni gream tu, how to train la!
That said, I’m only qualified as a child trainer and I'm sure I'm a damn good one! Well, one less highly compassionate trainer in the world, this one better be loving, respectful and equipped with heaps of techniques so the animals don’t shed one fur, or else….
Mahat - his daily routine includes religiously preparing food to feed his 'performers'

Anyway, Mahat seems like a dedicated being, undoubtedly the patient kind, also geared with quite a bit of experience in transmuting a wild one . Chris and some of the others are his subordinates who are still trainer trainees. They’re doing a good job but I can only hope they treat these animals with humanity, reasonable and sufficient austerity and most importantly, respect.
I think there ought to be a screen test for trainer-wanna-bes.

So I was told, when training mammals like primates, the commander (which is us) must appear dominant, or the beasts will never listen to your instructions. Especially so because they’re smart, thinking animals, the more stern you should portray.
Showering Manja the showgirl

Orang Utans apparently know/sense right away from the tone and sound of your voice and body language, if you’re no-nonsense. Yes, even apes and cockatoos have an attitude. If you’re not firm, you’ll get a gist of attitude, inobedience and sometimes rebellious attacks. One cuckatoo named Jonny just simply doesn’t take shit. It won’t ‘perform’ otherwise, not even after a bit of yelling for cackling a little too much. Hehe… I find that cute. Merajuk la pulak…That’s so human ain’t it?Well, a very recent research asserts that more than 60 animal species, from birds to squids to spiders, clearly show presence of what can only be called personality. This isn't merely an accident of nature but part of a complex evolutionary strategy.

Having said that, humans are therefore not the only thinking phylum here...
The way the animals are train is similar to that disciplining a kid. You yell, order, command, deprive them of certain privileges or smack them if you must. And if he listens and behaves well, you give him what he deserves and more. Of course, it’s wrong to begin with, trying to instill discipline in wild animals and insisting they behave like we want it. But I reached a conviction in light of this; highly intelligent animals stuck in a cage where they don’t belong, for the rest of their lives. What can they do to keep sane? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Even prisoners need curriculum. Maybe teaching them to do certain things and creating activities will help enrich their lives… put their brains to work.

Now sometimes violence could take place even when you prove dominance. Most animals respond to sounds (except snakes of course) therefore if you’re not its actual trainer or the commander, plus behaving foolishly like taking its food away or encroaching into its living space, then you will likely be attacked.Well, the people who work with animals, be it domesticated or wild, have had their share of bites and attacks. That’s inevitable. A good example is Chris’ recent incident with Manja the showgirl. She attacked him 15mins before showtime after Chris stopped her from eating the food that was laid on the table. So Manja bit him! And bit him pretty bad too – he lost a chunk of his inner thigh and all feeling and almost a finger too. He agrees it wasn't Manja's fault but rather his own lack of understanding in the animal's temperament and behaviourial traits.

Chris - stick to birds or be sorry

At least Zoo Negara's show isn't one that ridicules animals. Basically, it’s not a bloody circus where apes are dressed in tacky costumes and asked to shake their tush so you’d laugh. Here, the purpose of an act conveys a clear educational message, to both children and adult audience. Go watch it yourself.
So you see, I was thrilled to bits this weekend. This is what I did :
Helped a cuckatoo learn to pick up rubbish...
...did a revision with a sea lion named DomBu that whistle equals food (which will soon learn to fetch plastic bags from the show pool)...Fed a much bigger sea lion 17-year-old Bart a big bucket of fish and watched Katie the apprentice demonstrate her new tricks for me...Witnessed the back-stage scenes of luring civet cats to their show ground...
And persuaded a Binturung to walk on my shoulder!
I’m surely packed with a whole bag of new tricks myself!
Rehearsals have never been more fun!

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