A few months ago, we began a positive reinforcement training (PRT) program with the chimpanzees. (Read JB’s thorough description in this blog post.) Our ultimate goal with this program is to give the chimps the opportunity to participate in their own medical care, and to make it a positive experience for them. By teaching them to present certain body parts for inspection, for example, we will be better able to check on and treat wounds.
We started by teaching the chimps to touch a “target.” A target can be just about any object – we use PVC pipes with colored tape on the end. When a chimp touches the target, the caregiver who’s working with them presses a clicker (click = “good job”) and then rewards the chimp with a small piece of fruit or other treat. Once a chimp has learned this “targeting” behavior, we move on to asking for different body parts. The routine is the same – when a chimp presents the body part we’ve asked for, they hear a click and get a treat.
When we started this program in April, we invited Gail Laule from Active Environments to spend several days at the sanctuary training the staff on these positive reinforcement techniques. This week, Gail has returned to check up on our progress. Here are some photos from today’s sessions.
Jamie presenting her shoulder to Diana:
Jody opening her mouth while working with me (Elizabeth):
Annie presenting her back (Anna and Negra are on the right):
Negra “targeting” with Anna:
Negra presenting her shoulder:
Participation in this program is totally optional. The great thing about PRT, though, is that the chimps want to participate. It’s a win-win. It’s enriching for them (and for their bellies!) and the cooperative behaviors they learn are going to improve their lives by allowing us to give them the best care possible.