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Visit the Kingdoms of the Night®
at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo®
and catch a glimpse of a few alligators swimming around. Omaha’s Zoo has nine alligators in the swamp and fourteen smaller alligators in the nocturnal exhibits in the Desert Dome. The alligators take part in a training program that has been going on at Omaha’s Zoo for the past eight years.
The training program is held three days per week in the morning and only with adult alligators. Some training days are spent in the actual exhibit to give a better feel for the alligator’s behavior and other days the training is held off display. The main purpose of the training is to ensure the staff can safely interact with the alligators and also helps with the alligator’s own safety. The training helps desensitize the alligators to the presence of staff. Once the alligators get used to the staff coming in, they can be handled without restraints. The training also helps Omaha’s Zoo to continue the research for artificial insemination in alligators. Alligators are being used as a training model to refine the skills needed to artificially inseminate other critically endangered crocodilians. The staff training is handled by the reptile crew.
Some of the ways the alligators are trained is through the use of cow bells and also by using bamboo poles. The bamboo poles are used to guide the alligators to follow a certain path or target. By hitting the ground with the poles and making noise, the alligators learn to follow that noise and motion. Positive reinforcement in the form of small meatballs is given to the alligators that obey their training. Alligators have fairly small brains but are still intelligent creatures and are able to learn quickly. The next time you are walking through the swamp of the Kingdoms of the Night®, count how many alligators you can see!