Behavioral Training Program
Chimps Inc. has made great strides in developing a Behavioral Training Program that promotes the physical and psychological health of the animals in our care. Through the use of positive reinforcement techniques, the chimps are trained to voluntarily cooperate with and participate in a range of veterinary and husbandry procedures, including everything from cooperative feeding to checking tonsils to shifting from one enclosure to another. This program benefits both the caregivers and the animals by facilitating daily management, reducing the stress associated with many animal care practices, and mastering certain behaviors that will allow rapid response to any future medical needs. As an added bonus, positive reinforcement training also provides a challenging and cognitively stimulating activity for the chimps to participate in.
Since we do not get into the enclosures with the chimps, our primary method for treating minor wounds or illnesses is through target and station training, which teach them to present certain body parts on cue, desensitize them to a variety of basic medical equipment, and cooperate with basic procedures like treating wounds, taking body temperature, and checking glucose levels. These techniques give caregivers the ability to provide adequate care from opposite sides of the mesh in a way that is safe, effective, and fun.
Beyond the basics of Target and Station training, we are continuing to make progress in our behavioral program by focusing on training behaviors that will assist with the prevention and treatment of heart disease, the leading cause of premature death among captive apes. Though still a work in progress, in the summer of 2013 the chimps began learning the step-by-step shaping plan that teaches them to voluntarily participate in heart ultrasounds. This procedure, which would otherwise require anesthesia, would allow caregivers to determine each chimp’s individual heart condition while they are awake.
One of the main benefits of behavioral training is that the chimps can willingly participate in basic medical procedures that might otherwise require anesthesia.
Station training teaches the chimps to hold onto a certain object, which is helpful for cooperative feeding, exercise, or getting them to shift from one enclosure to another. Target training teaches the chimps to present certain body parts for examination by touching them to the target stick.