Do siamangs participate in training with keepers?
Yes! All of our primates take part in positive reinforcement training, which allows our animals to voluntarily participate in their own healthcare. Bradley is always eager to train and seems to enjoy the attention — and treats — he gets from participating. Ronnie enjoys training, too, but moves at her own pace.
Both siamangs will show us their hands, feet, belly, head, tongue and hips on cue so that we can check for any injuries. They will also present their ears so we can take their temperatures and step onto scales so we can monitor their weights. As a reward for their participation, Ronnie and Bradley receive some of their favorite treats, like raisins, peanuts and pasta!
Siamangs can be taught almost all of the same husbandry behaviors as our western lowland gorillas and orangutans. However, we modify certain behaviors since siamangs are built differently than great apes. For example, during voluntary injection training sessions, we ask a gorilla to present his or her arm, but we ask our gibbons to present their hips. Since siamang arms are long and sleek, we prefer to train with an area that has more padding and muscle.
What’s the secret to training this species?
It is important to know the personality of the individual you are working with. All our primates have their own personalities and react differently to different stimuli or situations.
For instance, Kibibi, our 11-year old female gorilla, is bold when it comes to training and usually isn’t fazed by any new items like a toothbrush or an ultrasound probe. Ronnie, on the other hand, can be a little more skittish. We take care to slowly introduce new objects or behaviors to ensure she is comfortable before moving on to the next step.
Ronnie is considered geriatric for her species, so some of the behaviors that she and her primary trainer, Val Schultz, are working on include voluntary ultrasounds and blood draws. They are making wonderful progress! This will allow our veterinary team to monitor Ronnie’s health without needing to anesthetize her for a health exam.
We are also proud that both Ronnie and Bradley are allowing voluntary injections. Bradley even received his first dose of the Zoetis COVID-19 vaccine, which is amazing!