Animal Training Workshop Experience With Natural Encounters Inc.

As the way we work with animals in conservation care changes, the use of animal training is becoming more prevalent.  Animals now can participate in their own health care and have their minds and bodies enriched through positive reinforcement training.  However, having a knowledge base and understanding of how to go about training is something one would need in order to make these training sessions successful.  One company that has that knowledge base is Natural Encounters Inc. (NEI)  
Natural Encounters Inc. was established in 1976 by Steve Martin.  He began by creating the first bird show at the San Diego Zoo.  Then went on to provide free-flight bird shows in zoos around the world.  Their mission is to engage, inspire and empower their audiences to engage in conservation.  Additionally, their staff will travel to zoos around the world as animal training consultants to assist animal care professionals with training skills in general or for working with a specific species.  With their extensive knowledge of animal training, they hold various animal training workshops for animal professionals at their home ranch in Central Florida. 

I was lucky enough to attend an animal training workshop hosted by NEI this past January.  NEI is home to over 550 birds of 70 different species at their ranch.  In the workshop we not only received information in a lecture-based setting, but were able to take what we learned and apply it to the birds at their facility.  We were placed into groups with a team lead who has had many years training animals.  We were also assigned a group of macaws and a raven to be able to train with throughout the week. We would spend each morning with a lecture, followed by a training demonstration, then time to train with our birds.  Then we would have a wonderful catered lunch and do the same in the afternoon.  

I went into the workshop with previous education and practice with positive reinforcement training from my time at school.  However, the way that they explained and put techniques and processes into perspective really changed the way I thought of how I was training the animals I work with.  Having the ability to take what we had learned and immediately apply it to the birds we were working with was crucial for everything to click.  The added benefit was having the team lead and your team with you there every step of the way.  Most times you don’t necessarily have the chance to have someone watch and give advice while you are training. This opportunity allowed you to have that immediate feedback, change what you were doing, and see that result of the feedback.  Our whole group joked that we wished we could all go to work with each other to help and give advice during our training sessions!    

Since attending the workshop, I have worked with our African Grey Parrot, Minnow on a nail trim behavior, putting his wings up and beak holds.  The ability to attend this workshop was very beneficial to my own knowledge and changing the way I work with the Zoos ambassador animals.  


– Program Coordinator & Zoo Naturalist Jess Hays



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