Training of Antillean manatee <i>Trichechus manatus manatus</i> Linnaeus, 1758 as a management technique for individual welfare
AbstractBehavioral training is a method used in institutions that keep captive animals to assist in husbandry and health assessment issues. It consists of training animals using positive reinforcement to perform behaviors that facilitate veterinary procedures without the use of physical restraint or drugs, thereby improving animal welfare. A female Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus), eight years old, weighing approximately 400kg and measuring 266cm, was the subject of this study. The training method used was operant conditioning with positive reinforcement, which encourages the animal to cooperate during veterinary inspections. The animal was trained that every time it performed a commanded behavior correctly, it would be rewarded with food and verbal praise. Furthermore, just prior to the moment of the reward a whistle was sounded; thus the animal associated this sound with the correct performance of the commanded behavior. To control the body position, the animal was trained by operant conditioning to touch a target. Our subject was trained in two stages, to perform necessary behaviors to collect biological samples (e.g. blood). Some of the possible factors influencing the training sessions were evaluated, such as the identity of the keeper, the impact of sounds and the number of days between training sessions. Only the identity of the keeper was found to influence training sessions. Our subject rapidly learned to express a number of commanded behavior patterns to assist its management in captivity. Therefore we consider this method to have been successful. We consider this method as indispensable when managing large endangered species in captivity, as training reduces stress for the animal and reduces risk to its human caregivers Finally, the application of this method will allow us to collect more biological data about this endangered species.
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