Homeschool Web Activity
September 2012
Houston Zoo
Showing Off
Your Smarts
 Many
organisms on planet Earth show
 Webster’s
dictionary defines
intelligence as:
“the ability to learn or understand or to
deal with new or trying situations”
Intelligence in Animals
 There
is such diversity in the animal
kingdom that it stands to reason
different animals show intelligence in
different ways
 This
means scientists must use
different methods of measuring
intelligence based on the organism
they are studying
Intelligence Tests
 Scientists
look at a variety of “tests” to help
them determine the intelligence of an
 These include:
Tool usage
Problem solving
Social groups and
And more!
The Smarter You Are, The
More… Bored You Get?
 As
odd as that sounds, it is true!
 The more intelligent an animal is, the more
likely they will be in danger of getting bored
 Here at the Houston Zoo, we have many
animals in our care that are very intelligent
so we must always work to find things to
keep them engaged and their minds sharp
 One
of the ways our keepers engage the
animals and keep their minds active is
through training
 Through
operant conditioning using
positive reinforcement, keepers can train
different animals to learn a variety of
Start With The Basics
Training often starts with “capturing a
Many times, an animal’s first response to a
new object presented to them is to sniff it
Keepers will present the animal with a target
stick; when the animal reaches out to
investigate it by giving it a sniff, the instant
their nose touches the target, the keeper
bridges the behavior and offers a reward
Practice Makes Perfect
 The
keepers will work with an animal
and repeat this simple behavior over
and over
 Eventually, the animal associates the
positive response (food, praise, etc.)
with touching their nose to the target
and then…
 Voila! That behavior has been
Building Upon…
 Once
the very basic behavior of touching
one’s nose to a target is captured, the
keepers can start to add other, more
advanced, behaviors
 For instance, if they lower the target out of
the animal’s reach so the animal must lay
down to touch the target, they can easily
capture the behavior of laying down
The Sky Is The Limit!
 Many
of our animals are so
intelligent, the keepers can get
very advanced with their
 Elephants, sea lions, and parrots
are all examples of animals who
really show off their smarts!
Humans At The Top Of The
 Humans
are very
intelligent creatures as
 We use tools, live in
highly dynamic social
groups that utilize
language, and use
problem solving in our
every day lives
Keep Sharp!
 Since
humans are so
intelligent, we also
can get bored easily
 Be sure to always
keep your mind sharp
by doing puzzles,
making up fun games
using your
imagination, and
learning new things!
Try It Out!
 We
learned all about
how the keepers here at
the Houston Zoo use
training to keep our
animals’ minds sharp
 Grab some friends and
family members and try
your hand at training
using our web activity
instructions and data