APOPO kicks off Animal Behavior and Management Alliance Conference

By Kate Sears-Webb | Behavioral Research Technician

APOPO delivers keynote address.

On April 8th, researcher Kate Webb delivered the keynote address at the Animal Behavior and Management Alliance (ABMA) conference in Portland, Oregon. Each year, the ABMA conference unites roughly 150 animal care professionals; including veterinarians, trainers, and keepers.

Experts in animal behavior presented on advancements in animal welfare, training, and enrichment. The 2019 conference included three site visits: a tour of the Oregon National Primate Research Center, a visit to the Guide Dogs for the Blind (showcased in the 2018 documentary film ‘Pick of the Litter), and the award-winning Oregon Zoo.

Kate accepts a plaque from Kelly Elkins, 1st VP of ABMA, in recognition for her contribution to the 2019 conference.

Kate’s keynote, “Saving lives one sniff at a time! African giant pouched rats as humanitarian biosensors”, featured APOPO’s operational impact and research. Kate discussed the results of a proof-of-principle study, in which APOPO collaborated with Endangered Wildlife Trust to examine if HeroRATs can be trained to detect illegally smuggled wildlife  in a project funded by US Fish and Wildlife and UK Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge.

APOPO was also invited to participate in the Oregon Zoo’s professional development ‘Lunch and Learn’ program. On April 12th, Kate presented the talk, “Training African giant pouched rats to save lives: from pup to hero”, to a group of zoo staff.

Highlights from the week, included conversations about our training protocols with Ken Ramirez, a renowned animal trainer who presented extended talks on animal training, and with Jessica Sutherland, a zoologist at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. This year, several of our animals, will be traveling to the United States to join a zoo family. Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium will be the first park to welcome our rats!

“I was thrilled to see the great work being done with the HeroRATs by APOPO. It is an example of outstanding use of positive reinforcement training with a unique species for scent detection work. In addition to the mine detection I was fascinated with their work on TB detection and their exploration of using the rats for conservation work, a passion and serious interest of mine. Kate was a great ambassador for the program and she inspired the ABMA attendees with her presentation about the program.”

– Ken Ramirez, Executive Vice President and Chief Training Officer, Karen Pryor Clicker Training

ABMA conference was a wonderful week filled with enlightening discussions on animal behavior, encounters with a variety of species at site visits, and expanding awareness of the HeroRATs life-saving impact, to a diverse crowd of animal-lovers and professionals.