Archive for February, 2011
Just like our animal handlers train and prepare themselves for programs and encounters, the animals must also go through a preparatory period before they can be part of the show. “Felix,” a ball python, is one of our newest live animals at Fernbank and he’s been through nearly four months of preparation for animal encounters.
When we first received Felix, he was not in great health. Before we could even think about his part in animal encounters, Felix had to visit the vet. Thankfully, Felix’s ailments were pretty common for reptiles and treatable. He was a bit lethargic, and had been underfed. A couple of mice meals later, Felix was acting just like a ball python should! He left trails from his overnight activities and curled up under a log most of the day. Felix shed his skin within 2 weeks of arriving at Fernbank, but had a hard time with it. The shedding skin actually left a scrape on his back that needed to heal before we could start handling him. After a couple weeks, the scrape began healing but would not be entirely healed until he shed his skin again. So we waited for Felix to shed his skin. Most snakes shed every three to six weeks. It took Felix nearly 2 months before he shed again. The entire process went smoothly, and the scraped area was healed!
Now that the risk of infection of Felix’s injury was gone, our animal handlers could begin handling him regularly behind the scenes. We were training Felix not to be threatened by us, but he was also training us. Live animals have different comfort levels and tolerance, so each animal handler had to figure out how firmly we could hold Felix without being uncomfortable for him. We also had to learn he sometimes likes to ‘burrow’ and will find something to nose into, like pockets, folds of clothing and hands. Throughout the process, we observed his behavior and learned which movements made Felix nervous and how he reacted. After several weeks of work with Felix, he was ready to be in front of a crowd. He became a part of animal encounters, but wouldn’t be touched by a large group until we knew he was comfortable with the mass of people around him. Felix adapted very quickly to large crowds and snuggled close to our handlers during encounters—a good sign he was comfortable. Then, over the holidays, Felix was introduced to the world of touching from admirers young and old. He began showing signs of discomfort after the first 40 people came by, but didn’t get antsy, which would suggest stress. After being through a couple animal encounters, Felix was showing no signs of stress or discomfort. That means he has become a fully trained member of our live animal collection!
Felix’s training process lasted almost four months, but he is now a regular part of our live animal encounters. As the opening of Fernbank NatureQuest nears, our animal handling staff will be busy repeating this training process to prepare our newest live animal members for their new home inside the exhibit. Join us for the grand opening of Fernbank NatureQuest on Saturday, March 19!
Lynn Anders, Animal Care Coordinator