Feb 2014

Brooms are for cleaning, not for poking.

Brooms are for cleaning, not for poking.

A broom is a cleaning tool. Brooms, they come in different shapes, colors and sizes, and we usually use them to tidy and scrub. We might have a broom for cleaning indoor areas, and others for the outside, or only drains. We can have brooms for the quarantine areas, other brooms for scrubbing algae of pools. We have brooms with long handles, but also brooms with short and sturdy ones. Broom can be wood, metal or plastic, with bristles from broomcorn and/or sotol fiber. So brooms are for cleaning. Broom in zoos are for cleaning, and well of course, they could in a positive way be used as enrichment items too!

But brooms in zoos have also acquired other purposes as well, we use them to poke animals, block animals going places, move animals where we want them to be, or to keep a safe distance between us and them (example wattled crane safety - great target training!), and I have been guilty of this too in the past. Preferably animals are trained to voluntarily cooperate in their care, but there are moments when more negative tools are needed to ensure safety of animal and keeper and or manage the animals.

I would like to suggest that we separate the different tools so we are not sending conflicting messages and or scare animals unnecessarily. If we need to keep animal at safe distance this can be done with another type of sticks or a herding board, and the same for separating or moving animals. We can and should use these tools in the least obtrusive manner, and at the lowest intensity. Don’t forget that with the broom we also change our body language, voice, our demeanor, so what we signal is often (perhaps unintentionally) of a high intensity already.
If we use these tools we have to do so carefully, and always be conscious of the fact that we have to fade out these methods as much as possible. So if you need a stick to move animals now, you should be working towards not having to use it anymore, just asking the animals to move outside or inside should be enough and works well. The problem of using the broom is also that animals can easily develop fear (or aggressive) responses to the broom. So even when you do not come to push them out with the broom, and just come for cleaning, the broom can trigger agitation, fear and anxiety.

Brooms are a frequently used item in enrichment but also in training as a reinforcer. That this can be very reinforcing and pleasurable for animals can be seen in the article on the Forth Worth Zoo with photos and a video and monkey enrichment at Port Lympne Wild Animal Park.
Many keepers know that all types of brushes (soft, hard,big and small), fixed or mobile can be very popular!

With the daily tools we use to care for the animals we should make sure that they have a positive view of these objects, whether broom, rake, hose or other. I think that non of these should be used to scare animals, to move them or to keep distance (unless you have a very good reason, like an emergency).
We can take a moment to think through the scenarios and decide on which tools will be used for which procedures.
Please think about which tools to use if you do need to use aversive ones, like a stick or herding board, and think through how it is used at the lowest intensity. Preferably also take the next step of teaching voluntary collaboration. This make it all much more relaxed and fun for both you and the animals!

So next time you see and use a broom, hose, rake or other tools to care for animals, make sure this item is and stays positive. We care, and we do not want to scare. We are caregivers, not scaregivers.

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