Evolving as a Sanctuary

TCWR’s Behavioral Management Program

June 26, 2017

Summers in the Ozarks are full of fun, family, food and, of course, felines! And picnics are an archetype of this sweet summer fun. At Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, we encourage our visitors to come out, bring their lunch, and spend some time watching the animals. With a picnic table and benches located close to our animal habitats, you can eat and learn more about all of the animal residents who call TCWR their sanctuary.

One of the most important elements of being their sanctuary is having the ability and the desire to constantly evolve. We can always do better and we will always do better. Many guests, specifically those who visited us in our earlier years, fondly remember our “feeding time” program that occurred at the end of the day. While for a long time it appeared to be a fun and educational way to feed the cats, it turned out that the constant stream of onlookers and indiscreet way of feeding the cats had erupted into an array of stress behaviors. We started to see notable food aggression and frequent pacing from the majority of our animal residents –even from those who had never been known to show any kind of aggression in the past. It was this realization that lead us to the decision to move away from the program and begin calm and discrete feeding groups at different times of the day. No longer doing the large “feeding time” program, we decided to then explore other programs that would be both beneficial to the cats and educational to the humans.

In January of 2016, we found the program — a form of animal husbandry known as the Behavioral Management Program. Behavioral Management Programs include the tasks performed to ensure the emotional and physical health of animals in captivity. Therefore, the purpose of this new program has been two-fold. First, this form of animal husbandry allows TCWR’s animal care team to encourage the animals to partake in enrichment activities –helping to prevent boredom and stress. And secondly, it allows for animal care staff to address health issues and perform routine medical check-ups without the use of sedatives.

For example, in the past, if one of the cats had surgery on their belly and needed their stitches checked, we would have to sedate them to get a closer look. Now, we can give verbal cues that instruct the cat to stand up against the habitat wall making the check-up wonderfully noninvasive –of course, only positive reinforcement is used, generally by way of delicious and delectable treats.

So far the program has had an encouraging effect on our animal residents and we’d love for visitors to share in this fun and educational opportunity this summer! Training with participating animals can currently be seen every day after the 4:00 pm Guided Habitat Tour in the Discovery Tour section of the Refuge.

So, if you are looking for something fun to do this summer, start by grabbing your lunch to go and join the evolution — learning more about what it takes to care for these amazing animals and soaking up some sunshine!