Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Regulatory Information Animal People Should Know

Whether you are an animal industry professional or share your life with companion animals it is important to be aware of the laws and policies that apply to the animals we steward. The following links will help you learn more about US federal government policies in regard to animal welfare.  These documents below are provided by The US Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service  (USDA APHIS).

US Fish and Wildlife (FWS) regulates native species. People are not allowed to "own" native species. You are given permission by the government to acquire or steward them for various reasons such as education, display, falconry or research. Many birds in the US are protected by the Migratory Bird Act. Any birds on this list require a permit from the federal government to be in your care.

Keep in mind there may be other state and city regulations, policies, ordinances and laws that apply to animals in your area. It is a good idea to check on the local level and state level as well as the federal level to make sure you are in compliance.

Here is a list of some of the most often requested regulatory and guidance documents from USDA APHIS:

Law: The Animal Welfare Act

Regulations: 9 Code of Federal Regulations Animal Welfare

Policy Manual: Animal Care Policy Manual

Dealer Inspection Guide

Exhibitor Inspection Guide

Research Facility Inspection Guide

Inspection Requirements Handbook and Attachments

Information and Fact Sheets:

Fact sheet on the Animal Welfare Act

Licensing and Registration Under the Animal Welfare Act

Types of Animal Welfare Act Licensees and Registrants

Glossary of Animal Welfare Act terms

Regulation of Commercial Animal Dealers

Regulation of Exhibitors

Regulation of Research Facilities

Information on the AWA inspection process

Fact sheet on Compliance Inspections

Information on the AWA enforcement process

Animal Care Inspection Information Search Tool: searchable database of inspection reports

It is a lot too read, but I hope you find these links useful.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2012

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sex and Sirocco the Single Kakapo

This is the fourth in a series of blogs on Training Sirocco the Kakapo. Click here to read the series from the beginning.

The main reason I had come to New Zealand was to address Sirocco’s undesired sexual behavior. What I had learned about kakapo natural history is that the males are extremely motivated to copulate during breeding season. With companion parrots we often advise people to remove all the environmental triggers that increase hormone production and associated reproductive behaviors. This might mean keeping light cycles the same, offering a less rich diet, removing access to nest sites, avoiding mate like bonds with your parrot, etc. These tend to work really well at keeping parrots from going into what people like to call a “hormonal” state.

However Sirocco would be living outside, roaming an island like a wild kakapo during breeding season. (Which by the way I thought was awesome! How many animal ambassadors get to do that?) There would be no way to control the environmental triggers that lead to hormone production for him. And as mentioned in a previous blog the mating strategy of this species is very different from the parrots typically kept as pets. The males will call for a female for up to eight hours a night for three months. They will mount nearly anything that passes by their bowl. And once they engage they have been seen mating up to an hour and a half. This is a very sexually driven parrot!

My plan for Sirocco would not be the same one often suggested for companion parrots. Instead my goal was to redirect Sirocco’s sexual behavior to something other than someone’s head. Once that relationship was established the goal would be to offer the new object as a reinforcer for desired behavior. For example, if Sirocco wandered up to a ranger house in search of some action, he could get exactly that for doing the right behavior. In this case when envisioned him stationing on one his stations. His reward could be access to the object for mounting.

The “object” has become quite the fascination. Years ago I had won a barn owl puppet in a raffle at an IAATE (International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators) conference. Because kakapo have a facial disc they are often called the owl parrot. Even their scientific name Strigops means “owl face.” I decided to bring the owl with the hopes it might be able to replace people’s heads as the object for sexual behavior. I knew it may not be the object we ended up using, but I figured it would be good to have something just in case.

By the time we introduced the owl Sirocco was already hip to how training worked. We used a target and treats to get him interacting with the owl. It was quite adorable when he gently squeezed the stuffed owl beak with his own beak. However at this point we had not seen any sexual behavior.

One night after a great training session, Sirocco started to work his way to the top of the hill. He stopped half way sat down and started booming (It is hard to hear the booming in the video You might need headphones). This is the low frequency calls the male kakapo make when seeking females. Sure enough he climbed up team member Daryl’s leg and started copulating with his head. I thought this is our moment! I presented the owl near Sirocco’s feet and eventually got him on the owl. I lifted my arm with him on it. Sirocco then climbed to my head. (Yes I had my head humping moment. I suppose I need a T-shirt that says “I was humped by Sirocco”) I presented the puppet at his feet. We traded Daryl’s arm for mine inside the puppet and now Sirocco was on the puppet on Daryl’s arm. This is when a wonderful thing happened. Sirocco made another attempt to get on Daryl’s head when he didn’t have success he redirected to the puppet and starting copulating with it! It was our sign that our training goal was achievable.

Although the owl was a big hit for the media, it soon became clear we needed an object that could be left with Sirocco. Holding a puppet for 40 minutes of humping was not realistic.

Sirocco has a history of stealing Crocs® shoes and taking them back to his bowl. We decided these might be a better object. While I was there we didn’t have the chance to try a shoe out. But since then I mailed a care package of eight Crocs® to Sirocco. I will share more on Sirocco's training and hopefully will be able to update everyone on how Sirocco’s training has progressed since I left in the next blog. Stay tuned!

Barbara Heidenreich
Good Bird Inc
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2011

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sirocco the Kakapo Talks!

This is the third blog in the series of Training Sirocco the Kakapo. Click here to read from the beginning.

Parrots have their unique calls and as any parrot owner can attest you quickly learn which calls are associated with fear responses, well being, contact calls and so on. I didn’t know kakapo language when I was working with Sirocco and at first it was perplexing.

I finally heard the call so many describe as a “skraaak” on my second or third night working with Sirocco at Zealandia. The trainer in me wanted to know why did he do that? What does it mean? It happened after we had finished training, attended to his feeding station and were half way down the trail back to the house. My first thought was all our interactions had been really pleasant maybe it is a contact call and the skraak was his way of saying “come back”. Then it happened one night while we were heading back down the hill after Sirocco had displayed some aggressive behavior. That made me think maybe it was his way of saying “go away”. Finally longtime member of the kakapo recovery team Daryl Eason arrived to work with us. He is a walking encyclopedia on all things kakapo. We asked him what the call means and it soon became clear a ‘skraak” can mean different things under different circumstances.

Up to this point we had not observed Sirocco when he called. We only heard it. One night he skraaked during a training session! It was pretty fascinating to watch him do it. An innocent touch to his tail caused him to belt out a skraak. In this case he seemed mildly perturbed and perhaps a bit surprised by the tail touch. However he carried on with training right after the incident. Other times he skraaked when he was ready to exit the display area and another time he skraaked when he was perfectly calm and relaxed.

There was another vocalization we were lucky to experience almost every night. We were getting much better at reading Siroccos body language at this point and felt we had a good handle on what a “happy” kakapo looked like. Sirocco’s facial feathers would be nice and round, his body weight low on the perch and he would often start to get a half lidded sleepy look. This usually happened after he had consumed a few nuts and was starting to slow down in the training session. It was at this point he would start to “talk.” Sirocco didn’t talk the way we think of parrots talking, as in mimicking human sounds. Instead he would make this gentle, breathy chortling sound. He seemed to be more inclined to make the sound if people spoke gently to him or mimicked his sounds. To me it sounded similar to the noises an African grey parrot might make when feeling a bit “in the mood.” But Sirocco's gentle sounds were never followed by anything sexual. I would get to see what sexual behavior looked like on another night. More on that in the next blog.

Barbara Heidenreich
Good Bird Inc
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2011