San Diego zookeeper meets the HeroRATs

Tina Silva visits APOPO Training center in Tanzania.

The APOPO Training and Research Headquarters in Tanzania was thrilled to host a visit from Tina Silva who works as a carnivore/hoofstock keeper at the San Diego Zoo working with lions, jaguars, tapirs, capybaras, and camelids. 

Tina is no stranger to Tanzania. In fact she previously served as a Peace Corps volunteer in a remote part of Iringa region for 2 years where she lived and worked as an environment volunteer and happened to be visiting her village again. Tina was reminded of APOPO earlier this year, when APOPO kicked off the Animal Behavior and Management Alliance (ABMA) Conference by delivering the keynote address.

Tina also took the time to present and  share some of her animal training experience with APOPO's training staff. She explained how San Diego Zoo uses operant conditioning to improve the wellbeing of their animals. Targeting enables keepers to move animals around without frightening them and clicker training provides mental and physical stimulation that in turn adds enrichment to the animals' lives. Through photos and videos Tina showed how clicker training enables zoo vets and keepers to weigh the animals regularly, and to perform physicals, vaccinations, pregnancy exams, draw blood, examine hooves, treat the animals when they are sick, with the calm cooperation of their patients.

"I had heard about the work APOPO does through the zoo world and was absolutely blown away that someone was out there doing this with rats! And the trainer in me wanted to know the process and see it in action. With a trip to Tanzania already planned including driving through Morogoro, I knew I had to stop and see it for myself!

I was so impressed with the dedication to the training involved and the attention to detail the staff had for their individual jobs. I was also very happy to hear that animal welfare is a priority for the rats. That speaks volumes to me in regard to the professionalism of the program and staff. Overall, an excellent learning experience for me and a job well done by all the APOPO staff! Keep up the great work!"

This year, three of our animals, traveled to the United States to join a zoo family - Tacoma's Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium - the first park to welcome our HeroRATs! We hope to be able to send some ambassadors to the San Diego Zoo in the future too!

Thank you Tina for taking the time to come out and visit with us, learning more about APOPO's work and sharing your experience with clicker-training for different animals with the team.