As part of our positive reinforcement training program, keepers have been working closely with Moke to teach him behaviors that enable us to evaluate his health. He has mastered following a target from place to place, as well as stationing (remaining in one spot) during training sessions, but his attention span is limited. He continues to learn to present different body parts on cue so we can look for any cuts, scrapes or other injuries that may require veterinary evaluation and treatment. This fall, the primate team is teaching Moke how to voluntarily present his shoulder and hold still for an injection, which will allow for vaccine administration.
When our apes choose to participate in training and do the correct behavior, they are rewarded with lots of verbal praise as well as a favorite food. What each gorilla receives varies since their motivations and preferences differ—just like humans! Moke receives fruit, but some of the adults (both gorillas and orangutans) receive honey as a very special sweet treat. In the last few months, Moke has developed an affinity for certain foods, his favorites being peanut butter, oatmeal and corn. He also enjoys cooked pieces of sweet potato.
For a 1.5-year-old boy with a limited attention span, Moke has been making great progress in learning these behaviors. In fact, he can sometimes be a bit too eager to learn. Sometimes, when Calaya is in the middle of a training session, Moke will make his way over to where she is stationed and try to interrupt. Sometimes, Calaya will move him out of the way, and he shows his displeasure by lightly barking at her or mouthing her arm.