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World-leading animal trainer wows Zoo staff

Hamilton Zoo hosted a training event of a unique kind from 27-29 November, led by internationally renowned animal trainer, Peter Giljam from Zoospensefull, currently based in Sweden.

This was Peter’s second visit to Hamilton Zoo – in 2018, he held a series of workshops which were so well received, staff were determined to find a way for him to return.

They did so by inviting zookeepers and animal trainers from across the country, sharing the cost around. 30 individuals took up the offer, with representatives from Auckland, Wellington, Orana and Brooklands zoos, as well as staff from Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium. A further 40 staff from Hamilton Zoo participated.

The three-day event focused on animal training with a blend of theory-based presentations and workshops along with practical sessions within various enclosures at Hamilton Zoo.

The sessions were geared at improving the animal/trainer connection, understanding animal queues (like widened eyes and quickened breath) and gradually shaping behaviour to establish routines and keep animals and staff safe.

Team Leader of birds and ectotherms at Hamilton Zoo, Grant Kother says: “It was a real privilege to have Peter with us for the second year in a row, albeit with a much larger group this time.

“Training animals is complex work – there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach and sometimes the most effective techniques run counter to what feels instinctive for us as humans.

“Peter has a reputation as one of the best in his field for good reason – a charismatic teacher, he has a hands-on approach which means staff get to put skills into practice in the moment, building confidence.

“We covered a lot of ground over the three days, starting with the basics like teaching animals to stay still for an extended period to help with vet checks and reinforcing certain behaviours using positive reinforcement, timing and setting up the environment to help the animal succeed.

“One of my personal highlights was learning about systems that will help us work more effectively as a team.

“The learning never ends for an animal trainer and I’m proud to be part of a team that embraces a growth mindset and inspires others to do the same.”


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