Saturday, September 5, 2009


“You’d know if they are enjoying the whole enrichment activity” said Ralf. I was wondering how. I was following one particular time everyday; 15:00, +/- 10 minutes. I started noting that they all would be doing some other stuff till about 14:50 and suddenly in 10 minutes, they would all ‘set up’ for the training.

After some intense training days, they all had chosen their ‘spots’ where they would come and wait for the training. There is no meat on Mondays so no training, but you could still see them getting ready at around 15:00 for the training! This means they are enjoying the activity. And they can calculate time of the day. More amazingly, they can also calculate day of the week! (This I found out later while working with some larger crocs.)

I was also following a fixed turn schedule for the group to be called out starting with Ally and then Pintoo, Thai, Komodo, Mik and lastly Abu. They remember that too and you can see the croc with the next turn getting ready to be called out! They were proving themselves smarter everyday (They still are!). This was getting more and more exciting for me everyday. I finally had a group of disciplined crocs coming out of and going in the water on my commands, and they were enjoying it. But I wanted to do more than just calling them out of the water. So what more can I possibly do?

“Make them jump out of water. The Saltie will love it.” suggested Ralf. What an awesome idea it was. I started calling them in one of the water pools and made them jump to get a piece of red-meat hanging from a bamboo stick. I tried this with all the five species. The Nile crocodile (Abu) and Mugger (Pintoo) didn’t show much interest or rather were not built for it. Ally liked it and would make a half-jump once in a while but then soon lose interest. The Saltie (Mik) and the Siamese crocs (Thai and Komodo) LOVED jumping out of the water and it seemed that they are perfectly built for it. Awesome! Amazing physical capability. We knew about the salties jumping out of water, but Siamese crocs are equally good.

Ally jumping out of water. Well, jumping half out of water!

Mik (Saltie) jumping out. She missed the meat in this jump.

Komodo (Siamese croc) jumping out. Bang on target!

I was so excited now. I had a bunch of crocs that would not only come out of and go back in the water, but jump out of water as well, all on my commands! Wow. I would regularly give updates to Rom whenever he visited Croc Bank. He was quite delighted with the whole idea of enrichment for crocs. He too was amazed with the learning capabilities (and some of the crazy physical capabilities of Siamese crocs). I will always be grateful to him for his encouragement and of course it wouldn’t have been possible without Ralf.  I am also thankful to Janaki who always advised to keep notes of this whole activity.

Now again, I wanted to do more than just calling them out, sending them back in and making them jump out of water. What next?

“Try interacting more with Ally. You can do a lot more with Alligators.” Ralf again suggested. Sure thing. I started interacting more with Ally. I also managed to desensitize her by patting her on the head saying “good girl” after every time she performed something right. I gradually desensitized her whole body. Now I do not have to worry about her reacting defensively (or aggressively) when I have to touch her body to check for any physical injury or anything else.

I thought why not do something like you do with dogs. It’ll be fun and will look rather cute with her. So, we started working on “sit”. It took about a week but then she figured out. She had to lay flat on her belly.

Me teaching Ally to "sit"

Pintoo was seeking attention now but since I was working on some new set of commands with Ally, I didn’t want to divide my concentration on anything else. There were also a few ‘surplus’ crocs who would come out randomly for food. Pintoo was the boldest croc in there and the smartest too, so he wanted to prove that he can do more stuff and he knew that he’d get food as reward. So he would come out and try to show his readiness for performance. I didn’t want to neglect him completely so I thought of “stay” as his next command. He took only a couple of days to figure that out. All of my commands have a tap-on-the-snout with a small bamboo stick. For “stay” he had to freeze in whichever place he was tapped “stay”. While I was working on that, I saw Ally mimicking “stay” like Pintoo! She would just come up as if asking to tap on her snout. I tapped on her snout and said “stay” and she just froze! I could not believe my eyes.

Ally performing "stay"

Later I taught them to perform “stay” with their mouth open as it looks much more impressive that way.

Getting back to Ally, she would now come and “sit” but it looked incomplete. She should now stand. I chose “up” as the command word just to keep it simple for her. We started working on that. Again it took about a week. Now with the command “up”, she has to stand up raising her head high.

Ally performing "up"

I would follow this up with a pat on her head. “Good girl Ally”. People who have seen this often say “Oh she seems to really enjoy that pat on her head”. I am sure she does. She is awesome.

"Good girl Ally"

She loves to eat and so I have to act as her dietician keeping a check on her food intake. I want fit crocs, not fat crocs, and this goes for all crocs. Their food intake is strictly monitored. One more problem I faced during the initial days when they didn’t have a fixed turn schedule was that the crocs would randomly come out and ask for food while I was working with some other croc. This was often irritating as they would ruin my concentration and distract the croc I was working with. This would become dangerous when they grow bigger and should not be encouraged. I often had to have one more person in the enclosure who would keep an eye and send back any such ‘off training’ crocs while I was working with one. First Nikhil, then Gowri and later Seth (one of our keepers) played this vital role. After about a month of this, they all knew their turns and were quite ‘disciplined’. I started working alone again.


To be continued...


Domenic said...

This is really awesome soham really enjoy reading these and learning about how you trained your babies! looking forward to what they will have learned by the time i get back there to visit again.

Katie said...

It was so cool reading this. I loved watching it too, when I was there. This brought back a lot of memories... :D How is it going? I can't wait to see how they are doing when I visit again...

Ralf said...

Its a great progress -and there is still more to do and to learn! Keep up your good work!

Unknown said...

Really interesting.. especially the "sneek peek" we get into the lives of the Crocs and its great to know so much about their capabilities and behaviour!

Unknown said...

nice to see that you had a group of disciplined crocs and even biggere crocs were understanding the procedure and accepting it most imprtantaly!!!

Shweta said...

wow... :) interesting!