Target Training with LA – the vision.

by Nathan Thoele

Environmental Educator 

What’s the point of this? To give her a way to show herself off on stage. To let people see how goofy it is when a vulture gallops around. To put people in a good mood so I can talk to them about difficult topics. To help me help people fall in love with vultures. To help me monitor her health. To get her from point A to point B. Los Angeles is a black vulture and a tennis ball is her target.

Target-training Los Angeles (LA) will help with three major elements of her life. First, it’ll help her perform in programs and be an effective ambassador for vultures. Second, it’ll help us take better care of her. Third, it’ll keep her life new, spicy, and enriched.

An ambassador for vultures
When all is said and done, I hope to be guiding LA around campus via the tennis ball. People who come here, at the right time, will get to meet her; see her walk; and hear not only her story, but the story of all vultures. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a goofy walk?

LA’s first time targeting outside at about 30 feet.
Since we’re still being honest, who knows how important vultures are for the world? I can tell you all about it here, but it’d take up way too much of your time which you’d probably rather not spend staring at a screen. Better to come to VINS and meet LA to hear exactly how large scavengers help protect everyone from rampant disease and prevent mass carcass buildup on our roadways. When you do get here, you may find LA strutting her stuff on stage in a live bird show or walking the campus like she owns the place. Don’t worry, I’ll be right there with her to make sure nothing happens to her. But that’s not all.

Keeping her healthy

LA being targeted to the scale.
As with all the birds we care for, we need to be able to weigh LA on a daily basis to help us monitor her health. Targeting her to perch on a scale is an unobtrusive way to get a weight on her. Similarly, we need to be able to transport her long distances in a car – maybe for a visit to the vet or maybe for a visit to a school. Have you ever tried putting a seat-belt on a vulture? Probably not, but I can assure you it won’t go well. So what do we do? We put her in an animal crate. With targeting, we can guide her into the crate, put the crate in the car, buckle the crate in, and set off for our destination. Targeting helps us be prepared. Of course, there is more to keeping a bird physically healthy. Mental stimulation goes a long way in promoting good welfare in any creature. 

A spiced up life
Although vultures in the wild spend a huge chunk of their time doing nothing but sitting and preening (a form of self-grooming for birds), they live in a dynamic and unpredictable world that encourages them to think on their toes. Life as an ambassador-vulture isn’t as dynamic as it would be in the wild, but we can try to keep things exciting. Training of any kind is basically a series of puzzles that the bird must go through in order to get food. Sometimes the puzzle is simply figuring out how to jump from one person’s hand to another person’s hand. Sometimes the puzzle is navigating a strange room with strange objects that could be new and intimidating or provide food. Either way, training allows us to give the birds something to think about and something to do. This, in return, will keep them psychologically healthy. 
Other humans will be joining in LA’s training from here on out. 
Los Angeles is here due to an injury sustained years ago that left her with one eye. Unable to survive in the wild, she makes a living by helping us teach people about vultures. While we can never completely emulate life in the wild, it’s our mission to get as close as possible while keeping her healthy and letting her be useful. Training is how we achieve that.
Stay tuned for more updates…

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