Developing a training program can be a long and complex process, consuming time and resources that the zoo may not have in abundance. However, many other large zoos in the United States, such as the Indianapolis Zoo, have expended considerable energy to develop strong keeper-training programs. The committee strongly suggests that the zoo consider implementing a keeper-training program that has already been developed at another zoo, bypassing the need to develop a completely new program, and use its resources to tailor this program to the zoo and move its keepers through as rapidly as possible. It may be worthwhile for the zoo to consider hiring an experienced training and development specialist to oversee the development of a rigorous training program and corresponding set of measures to ensure follow through. Central to the success of any program implemented at the zoo is a common understanding and acceptance that training in animal husbandry will benefit the work performance of every keeper at the zoo, including those who that have been with the zoo for many years.
Senior management at the zoo must ensure that any training program implemented include more than animal husbandry training for the particular species of animal that an animal care staff member manages. All animal care staff must be indoctrinated in the general principles of animal husbandry, welfare, and behavior, as well as the preventive health, nutrition, pest management, occupational health and safety, and sanitation programs. As noted in Chapter 7, a lack of zoo-wide support for integrated pest management, has led to a paralysis of the IPM program and a failure to implement zoo-wide, sustainable programs necessary for long-term control of pests. Senior management must ensure comprehensive training of animal care staff, so the staff understands that these other programs require their active support to function and benefit the animal collection and improve their own work environment. Standardized training in the general principles of animal husbandry, welfare, and behavior at both the Rock Creek Park and CRC facilities will also benefit the animal collection by widening the knowledge base at the zoo; allowing keepers to assist in other areas, creating more flexibility in coordinating human resources; and providing harmonized management of animals that move between the two facilities.
Comprehensive and rigorous training for all animal care staff, if appropriately developed and implemented, can also begin addressing the general perception that the animal program is understaffed. This perception is used by all levels of management at the zoo to justify the failure of animal care staff to participate in professional development and to stay abreast of the latest advances in animal enrichment and husbandry, whether through formal training events or self-education. Training can help establish effective time management skills, identify attainable daily goals for the animal care staff, and introduce long-overdue efficiencies.
It is also essential that any new training program (for keepers or curators) at the zoo instill a sense of personal responsibility for the continued professional development of the staff. In that way, the zoo can become a “learning organization” as described in the knowledge-management section of this chapter and once again become the premier institution where people come to learn about cutting-edge zoologic research and husbandry.
The Department of Herpetology at the Dallas Zoo is an excellent example of a department that has successfully used high expectations to foster the intellectual and professional development of its keeper staff. In that department, once new keepers complete their initial training, they are given material for a self-taught course in herpetology similar to a university-level herpetology course. The keepers are expected to pass a test on the material within 6 months to move beyond a probationary period. All keepers are expected to achieve that goal, regardless of previous education or professional experience (Dallas Zoo, Department of Herpetology Manual).