Ditmas Park

How Do You Get An Orphaned Sea Lion Pup To Trust You? A Prospect Park Zookeeper Shares His Story



For this year’s National Zoo Keeper Week, some of those working at zoos in the city shared some really incredible stories on the “Wild View” photo blog – including James Gottlieb’s reminiscence about getting Dory, an orphaned California sea lion pup in Prospect Park, to trust her keepers.

Dory, who James noted was unable to survive in the wild and was considered unreleasable, arrived at the Bronx Zoo about one year ago – and three months later, she moved to Prospect Park Zoo. Dory was not a happy sea lion and, James went on to say, “would not tolerate being touched by her keepers.”

“This complicated things, such as routine health exams,” James pointed out.

But, through “operant conditioning and positive reinforcement, we gradually gained her trust,” he said.

From the blog:

Working with Dory is the highlight of my day. She has a tremendous personality with a mischievous streak. She learns very quickly. My co-worker has trained Dory to porpoise (a natural behavior for sea lions in the wild to evade predators.) She leaps and flips out of the water appearing to enjoy her own capabilities and the positive response she gets from our staff and visitors. It has been gratifying to watch her thrive. I am grateful and proud to work for an organization that participates in these important rescue efforts.

Be sure to also check out the zoo’s blog posts about how things have – and haven’t – changed for zoo keepers, frogs’ strange reproductive habits, what tiny toads chow down on, how intelligent walruses really are, and an amazingly diverse collection of birds.

Photo by Julie Larsen Maher

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