By Aubrey Voelker, Program Intern
If you have ever been to Squam Lakes Natural Science Center you may have attended an Up Close to Animals program. During these programs certain education animals are presented so that the public can get up close to a wild animal and learn about its way of life. While presenting a few of these programs I have received multiple questions regarding the training process that our animals go through so that they are comfortable being in the spotlight. How is it that the skunk or woodchuck are content just hanging out on the table with the many distractions around them? The answer: Patience and Time.
As a program intern, I've been given the op¬portunity to help train a few future education animals and have experienced this vast amount of patience and time that is needed. One of the main concerns when an animal is on the table is that they will not jump off. It usually doesn't take too long for the animal to realize that it is much more enjoyable to keep their feet on the table. Since we want the animals to feel as comfortable as possible, treats are given to the animal when they are on the table. By doing this the animal associates going on the table with receiving treats making the experience more enjoyable for them.
A young porcupine is one of the animals I helped train. Like most of the animals, it took the porcupine a few jumps before realizing the joys of staying on the table. The next step was getting the porcupine to be comfortable enough to start eating the treats we presented to it. This is when I realized that it's necessary to celebrate the little successes to prevent frustration when progress moves slowly. For many days the young porcupine would just sit in one spot, making few movements. The days that it would stiff at the treats, were days of progress. Finally one day after the porcupine spent the first five minutes sniffing at a piece of apple, it picked it up and started eating. I realize this doesn't sound too exciting to most, but after spending days and days watching the porcupine ignore the treats, this progress made me happier than a bird with a french fry. While this young porcupine is still in the training process, it is beginning to show its face to the public and doing well.
Although the training of an animal can be a long and frustrating process, it is definitely a rewarding experience. In the end it is worth the time and the knowledge I gained is something that I hope to continue to use in the future and beyond my internship.