Who said old reptiles can’t learn new tricks? Six-year-old Iris the eastern indigo snake has been working with keeper Logan on target training for over a year now, and she’s got it down!
Logan utilizes positive reinforcement to shape the behavior of Iris touching her target—a pole with a bright red ball on the end. When she hits her mark (or “boops” it with her nose), she is rewarded with a juicy rat chunk!
“Target training is good exercise for Iris’s body and brain,” said Logan. “It is visually stimulating for her and keeps her active.” In their natural habitat, a snake like Iris would hunt for their next meal, so target training gives her a similar stimulus.
Although Iris is the first snake that we have target trained, we use this training technique with lots of animals at the Zoo, like goats, giraffe and Komodo dragons!
Eastern indigo snakes are found throughout Florida and southern regions of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. They are considered threatened due to habitat loss and collection for the pet trade. Iris lives in the Wildlife Detective Training Academy (WDTA) as an ambassador for her species, teaching visitors how to cohabitate with these stunning snakes.
You can see Iris and Logan in action at their keeper chat on Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. at the WDTA!