Friday, October 16, 2009


The whole training and enrichment of crocodiles started off as an experiment. The current ‘model’ was going really well now, but there’s always that urge to try more things. In this case, try more crocs. All of the crocs in the training group were juveniles; around 6 years old. I remember bugging Ralf a lot when he was here.

“Do you think it is easier to train a certain age class?”

“No. It is all the same whether you train young crocs or big adults.” said Ralf.

“Really? Even the BIG ones?”

“Ya. They are often easier!”


So that was my next plan. Train some big crocs. Of course enrichment is always attached with such programs. Now I needed a big croc, but which one? One day I was walking past pen 10. A background on this enclosure – This enclosure houses breeding Mugger females and one super lucky breeding male. He was having a tough time trying to keep all the females happy! Anyway, I just randomly called him “Rambo” and he looked at me! WHOA!!! I don’t know why he responded but that was the ultimate opportunity. You always identify ‘responsive’ crocs like this for training. It is not impossible to train any less responsive crocs but it is just much more fun with good response. I started calling him out and giving some rewards. Every time he responds to “Rambo”, he’s given a reward and this I carried on for about a week to reinforce his name. Once he knew his name he was like a dog when I call him.

Rambo coming out. Note the high walk.

Of course there’ll be days when he’s not in the mood and ignores me completely. But in the good days he is awesome. I first make him “jump” which he absolutely loves. Folks who have seen this up close know what I am talking about.

Rambo leaping for the meat. This pic would have been awesome if it was taken a second later.

Rambo is one of the fittest crocs at Croc Bank. He often manages to clear ground when he jumps and that is damn impressive for a 10-footer!

I wanted to do something really different with Rambo. Something that wouldn’t look like a simple trick that you can teach a croc. The next trick was ‘inspired’ from one of the youtube videos! There’s this guy who was working with a big Saltie, desensitizing him. Next thing he did was asked the croc to open its mouth and the croc did! I was speechless. How the hell do you teach a croc to open its mouth?!? How do you get the message through? I was breaking my head on HOW? I took that as a challenge, spent some time with Rambo and cracked the code!

Rambo with his mouth open.

Again, folks who have seen this up close will agree with the following part. It looks totally unbelievable. After the jumping, I ask Rambo to look “up” which he does perfectly well. After that the next command is “open your mouth”; Rambo opens his mouth! He gets a reward. “Up” and “open your mouth”, and he will do it again and again. It looks awesome. But How?

I was so overjoyed when I first taught him that. People just couldn’t believe that. When they saw it for the first time, they thought it was merely a coincidence that he opened his mouth.

"This is not real, right?" They would say.

"You don't believe what you see?"

“Rambo up” and “open your mouth” and I instantly had some astounded people!

Basically, all of the ‘tricks’ or ‘commands’ are based on the target croc’s basic behavior. I never entered the enclosure and always worked from outside but still managed to teach him to open his mouth on my command. Well, actually that was one of the easiest things to do! Rambo is a big guy. If he does “up”, which is looking up at me, for a longer time, he gets tired and drops his lower jaw; opening the mouth. When I noticed this first I went “Whoa! He just opened his mouth! Similar to that Saltie. Now I only have to make him understand that he has to do it when I ask him to.” When a croc is already doing the behavior that I want him to do, my job is half done. I only need to reinforce the behavior and associate a vocal command and reward with that. Every time during “up” when he opened his mouth after a bit, I would go “open your mouth” and give him a reward. Within three days he  figured that when he hears that vocal command he is supposed to open his mouth for which he will get a reward. I continued doing this everyday for a week and had a really cool trick on board!

I enjoy working with big crocs equally well. Next target group was from pen 8. Gerry and a group of herpers from U.K. helped build a wooden ramp for enrichment of the crocs. The basic idea is to get them up on the ramp and give them food there. This will give them ample exercise as they will have to come a long way considering the enclosure size.

Initial days need some extra encouragement

I managed to fit in “stay” when they reached the top of ramp.

Tommy performing "stay"

This whole activity is a big crowd puller and offers excellent education opportunity. We will be having some good talk accompanying it. Tommy and Gerry are the crocs that I am working with in this enclosure. They are big and impressive but I am waiting to try my hands on Monster, the largest male Mugger. That will be truly awesome.


To be continued...


Anonymous said...

It's fun reading about your experiences Sohan cause they are in a very personalised style...almost as if one can hear you speak it to the reader. Nice work here, and one can sense both your love and passion for this "job". In life if you find your calling, you should just follow it blindly.

Carry on....

Anonymous said...

amazing!!!! Sohamji. Keep it up. Wish you all the best.

Unknown said...

Nice to see crocs gettng interested in the physical training...good work , hope to hear more about them !!