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Husbandry training, using positive reinforcement techniques, for Marabou stork Leptoptilos crumeniferus at Edinburgh Zoo



Positive reinforcement training utilizes operant conditioning through intentionally pairing a reward with a desired behaviour. Despite frequent use in the husbandry of mammals in captivity, these techniques are rarely incorporated in avian husbandry protocols. Marabou stork Leptoptilos crumeniferus managers are encouraged to use husbandry training to combat frequently encountered management problems. Marabous can be aggressive in captivity, requiring careful management during introductions, flexibility when choosing individuals to house together and a sound understanding of Marabou stork behaviour. Susceptibility to foot problems means that Marabou storks need indoor housing during cold weather and their feet should be monitored. At the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland Edinburgh Zoo, a training programme was incorporated into the daily care of a pair of Marabou storks. This programme included clicker training and stationing, pair introduction, house training, health checks (including scale training) and crate training. Here, training experiences relating to this programme are presented, with additional reference to a similar programme run at Disney's Animal Kingdom, FL, USA. Through training, we were able to ease the process of moving birds, reduce aggression and regularly monitor health in a low-stress manner. We demonstrate that husbandry training can be effective without excessive time or staff costs, and can be rewarding for both birds and trainers.