Securing a shared future for wildlife and people

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Rats, Venus and Mercury

Given its namesake, it’s not surprising that Taronga’s Bird Show boasts a wide variety of birds, from hawks to parrots to vultures and even chickens. But along with those stars of a feathered variety are of course our rats.

Getting one of the biggest reactions in the Bird Show, our rats are just as much stars as the rest of the crew, and proof any animal can be trained, big or small, even a goldfish! No joke.

If you are unfamiliar with the show, we have two groups of rats that take part in our daily shows. A common question is, “are these rats used for food”, and I can tell you straight up, the answer is no.

These smaller team members get as much training and time invested into them as all the birds. Just like we use positive reinforcement with our birds, we do the same for the rats.

We reward behaviours we want. These rewards can include toys, attention, shelter, and as many people would correctly assume, food. Food is a powerful reinforcer, but not the only thing we use to shape our behaviours. In saying that, I’d do anything for chocolate, even when I don’t need it – a good reminder that all things should be enjoyed in moderation!

It's most important to take small steps, working within the animals’ confidence zone, and building trust.

Our current rats are named after planets within our solar system. In the “Comets” we have Venus, Mercury, Earth and Mars, and in the “Asteroids” we have Jupiter, Neptune and Saturn.

Each one has their own quirks and different markings, so you learn to tell them apart easily.

In the past we have named our rats after X-Men, Shakespearean characters, famous rats throughout history, and even chocolates (we really like chocolate).

The two rats in the photo are Venus and Mercury, soaking up the sunshine and taking in the stunning Sydney backdrop. Later that day they were given chunks of wood smeared in banana and kiwi. They are some spoilt rats.

When you next get the chance come down and say “hi”, or spot a rat or two, or three, or four!

Bird Trainer, Brendan

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