The trouble with hotwires.http://matahari-bears.tumblr.com/post/644289648/chong-day-one
By Mark Rusli
Conditioning captive animals requires a great deal of patience, as any experienced animal handler should know. Domestic animals are relatively easier - they’ve had decades of history working with humans. Sun bears? An entirely different ballgame.
There are many factors involved when it comes to conditioning: you can’t force situations, for example, because that would destroy whatever trust and rapport you’ve established with the animal. And you also have to note that not all animals behave the same way: like humans, each of them have their own characters, and you need to approach them accordingly.
Here’s a tricky situation we currently have: Chong refuses to enter the exercise yard because he was shocked during his first visit in there. He hasn’t associated the hotwires with the shocks yet, so he probably thinks some invisible lightning monster exists within the yard. The yard’s used to teach the bears about the hotwires, before they are exposed to the outdoor pens: these have fences secured with hotwires, in case the bears decide to make a break for it. In my opinion, I don’t think they’re really concerned about public safety if a bear escapes; it’s what the people will do to the bears that they’re worried about.
So far, no tactic has been successfully employed to rid Chong of his fear. Today we roped in Om, Chong’s best friend to help us out. Om’s already learnt to stay away from hotwires, and he normally crosses the training yard to get to Om’s den where they have short wrestling matches.
We recycled yesterday’s enrichment that we used for the females, securing it inside the yard, complete with honey and mashed banana trails leading to it from his den. Chong showed a lot of interest, but he still kept his hind legs firmly planted inside his den:
We gave Chong about half an hour to make a decision, but with no further development, Om was then released into the yard:
Om, who had been watching these proceedings very closely, attacked the log immediately. The plan is for Chong to watch and learn from another bear that the yard isn’t that scary….. it’s just the hotwires. We’re going to repeat this for the next few days.
Today’s results? Chong did a lot of watching, a little bit annoyed that Om was getting all the treats hidden within the log. We could tell fear still prevented him from venturing out, but with a little patience, he’ll get over it soon. (And hopefully it’s before I leave!)
Sunday, May 30th 2010 1:54am
Chong, day two.
I wish I could say Chong finally went out today, but it’s wistful thinking. Sometimes our impatient selves make unnecessary decisions to rush an outcome, but when it comes to animals you always have to constantly remind yourself that these are living things. Recklessness may cause you to move a few steps back, losing whatever you’ve already accomplished. Even worse - there’s a zoological term I heard before: a “lost cause”, which is self-explanatory. The animal completely disregards any form of captive interaction, and depending on the situation, the animal may even be euthanized.
So today it was more of this:
What the pictures don’t express is his clearly increased agitation, as compared to yesterday. We did the same thing - gave Chong half an hour to decide if the assortment of treats hidden in the log was worth crossing the yard for, and then releasing Om, who stuffed his face in front of Chong.
Today Chong was banging at the race door, picking fights with Om, climbing all over his den….. you could clearly see his frustration. And it’s a postive sign, because he’s weighing his options and turning those risk-calculating gears in his head. I’m sure we’re going to get increasingly stronger reactions from him over the next couple of days.
Monday, May 31st 2010 12:46am