Zoo-keeper grateful


MITTSY Voiles blew Ockie the chimpanzee a kiss yesterday at Rockhampton Zoo, proud of her efforts in changing the chimp's behaviour.

Over the past 18 months, Ms Voiles had been working with the chimp's when they suddenly began refusing to enter and stay in their dens so keepers could clean the enclosure.

"The chimps are about 30 years old, so it has taken them a long time to adapt to people,'' she said.

"I got involved with the zoo to broaden my skills while studying animal behaviours.

"They (chimps) got too beyond an interactive period so they got aggressive if anything disturbed them.

"We needed to get them into the den so the enclosure could be cleaned and they got rewarded for good behaviour.''

Ms Voiles said chimpanzees were very intelligent animals ? you just needed to figure out how to make them interested in what you wanted them to do.

"I met and worked with Amber once a week to set up a training plan,'' she said.

"My role was to suggest ideas and discuss their behaviour with her.''

As the chimpanzees at the Rocky zoo are non-contact animals, all training is done by teaching the chimps the relevant cue words, rewarding correct responses, and building a strong bond of trust with their keepers.

Rockhampton zookeeper Amber Countryman said it was very frustrating to work with them at first, but now it was fantastic and enjoyable.

"I am very grateful to Mittsy ? their behaviours have changed dramatically over the last six months especially,'' Mrs Countryman said.

"It's very exciting to see results and they aren't afraid of their keepers anymore.''

Mittsy develops and teaches training classes for puppies and adult dogs, focused on understanding behaviour, preventing problems such as aggression and fearfulness.



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