Optimal Animal Behavior: A Conversation with Jeff Andrews, Vice President of Zoological Operations a

@ Jeff Andrews

Jeff Andrews, Senior Leader of Zoological Operations at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay began his career at SeaWorld San Diego in 1985. He first started as a tour guide before transitioning to the aquarium as an animal educator. Shortly after that, he became a marine mammal trainer. While Andrews worked with many different animal species, he primarily worked with Killer Whales. Andrews describes the whales as animals who “are capable of learning complex tasks and are very intelligent.”

@ SeaWorld San Diego

@ SeaWorld San Diego

At SeaWorld, Andrews became exposed to positive reinforcement training, which would later greatly impact his management style with elephants. “Marine mammal trainers pioneered trust-based, positive reinforcement training,” Andrews reflected. Over time, animal care professionals applied the same techniques to other animals, allowing species all over the world to become accustomed to positive reinforcement training.

@ SeaWorld San Diego

@ SeaWorld San Diego

In 2001, Andrews moved to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. When seven African elephants were rescued from Swaziland in 2003, he began to spend most of his time with these elephants. Andrews was able to assist the elephants in all parts of their life, including caring for expectant mothers and their calves. “It was wonderful managing the Swaziland elephants,” Andrews recalled. “We applied extensive reproductive experience from whales and dolphins at SeaWorld, especially as we had a lot of former marine mammal trainers on our staff.”

@ San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Andrews became a strong advocate for positive reinforcement and trust based training with elephants. Prior to Andrews joining the team, the Safari Park became one of the first places to use protected contact for elephant management, which ensured a solid barrier was always between the elephants and the trainers. “Three previous killer whale trainers developed protected contact, we just added to it and incorporated positive reinforcement training,” Andrews remarked.

@ SeaWorld San Diego

@ San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Eventually, Andrews would end up working at the San Diego Zoo. At this time, he became involved in polar bear conservation and served as the chair of the Advisory Board member for the International Polar Bear Conservation Center (IPBCC). Andrews explained “the purpose is to rescue orphaned, abandoned or troubled polar bears and assist them in their recovery. The province brings animals to the center and together we save their lives.”

@ San Diego Zoo

One of Andrews’ biggest projects at the San Diego Zoo was helping develop Elephant Odyssey, its modern elephant facility that opened in 2009. It was designed to cater to the needs of geriatric elephants and provide them exemplary care. “It had a number of firsts,” Andrews reflected. Additionally, it let guests see the care given to the pachyderms. “[The barn and off exhibit areas] were almost all open to the public,” Andrews remarked.

@ San Diego Zoo

In 2012, Andrews moved to Tampa to become Vice President of Zoological Operations at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. “I was pleased to return to SeaWorld Entertainment,” he mentioned. This position put Andrews in charge of the park’s entire animal collection, including birds, mammals and other species from all over the world.

@ Busch Gardens

@ Busch Gardens

Andrews aspired to spread the philosophies he had established with elephants to all the animals at Busch Gardens. Additionally, he wanted the park’s animal populations to contribute to the survival of their species as effectively as possible. “We manage our entire collection to provide the best welfare, provide for sustainability of species and use behavior management and choice to help them thrive,” Andrews elaborated.

@ Busch Gardens

In particular, Andrews has encouraged the staff to focus on animal behavior and providing opportunities for its residents to behave as naturally as possible.

@ Busch Gardens

@ Busch Gardens

Andrews used Busch Gardens’ Asian elephant program as an example of positive, behavior-minded management in practice. “We want our elephant program to be a model to other zoos,” he elaborated. “With all of our animals at Busch Gardens we adhere to using only positive reinforcement, don’t use punishment, and don’t even use the word 'no.'"

@ Busch Gardens

@ Busch Gardens

One of the changes Andrews implemented at Busch Gardens was its first animal welfare committee. “On the animal welfare committee, we have a diverse variety of expertise and disciplines represented- research, behavior, nutrition, veterinary care, animal training, public relations, etc. It provides us a platform for staff to submit concerns and for us to respond. The committee’s primary role is not just to respond to concerns but to be proactive. We have a subcommittee that enhances animal welfare [throughout the park.]”

@ Busch Gardens

@ Busch Gardens

In 1965, Busch Gardens opened the Serengeti Plain, one of the most expansive, naturalistic mixed-species habitats in America. The Serengeti is home many different species and is still a large part of the park today. The Busch Gardens animal team takes huge pride in managing the species in this two-halved environment. “We incorporate species on each side of the veldt that are comfortable with each other.” Andrews commented.

@ Busch Gardens

@ Busch Gardens

A number of new animals have been added to Busch Gardens since Andrews began his role. The park is now home to a colony of African Penguins and these penguins have become a huge hit.” This colony allows Busch Gardens to contribute to the species survival plan of the endangered species and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ S.A.F.E. program for African penguin conservation.

@ Busch Gardens

In 2016, Busch Gardens opened Rising Tide, an aquarium habitat for tropical fish. It is connected to the Rising Tide Conservation project, which is managed by the University of Florida and the Oceanic Institute of Hawaii Pacific University. “We are proud to be a stakeholder in this conservation effort that has bred over 20 species of marine tropical fish.” This effort is put forth by the Sea World-Busch Gardens fund.

@ Busch Gardens

In addition to adding new species, Busch Gardens is committed to ensuring sustainable animal populations in human care through Species Survival Plans created by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Some of the species Busch Gardens has had success breeding in Andrews’ tenure include reticulated giraffes, Malayan tigers, gorillas, white rhinos, orangutans, spotted hyenas, sable antelope, sloths, wildebeest and more.

@ Busch Gardens

@ Busch Gardens

In addition to the animals that call Busch Gardens home, many thrill rides and attractions do as well. However, Andrews stressed the theme park components of Busch Gardens do not make any concessions to the quality of life for its animals. “The safety of our guests, animals and ambassadors is always our number one responsibility,” he remarked. Still, the animal team takes efforts to ensure all the animals feel comfortable with the rides and attractions around them. “We pair positive reinforcement to new stimuli to desensitize our animals to park activities,” Andrews explained. “We reinforce them for being relaxed and paying attention to us.”

@ Busch Gardens

@ Busch Gardens

Busch Gardens has attempted to show guests the high quality of care it gives its animals. “We let our guests see our animal training sessions,” Andrews stated. A strong example of this is Busch Gardens’ Animal Care Center, a veterinary hospital complete with glass windows looking into surgery rooms. “We opened the Animal Care Center in an effort for our guests to view and experience veterinary procedures,” Andrews noted.

@ Busch Gardens

One of the things Andrews was most proud of is the park’s contributions to the SeaWorld-Busch Gardens Conservation Fund. Since its inception in 2003, the fund has raised over $16 Million for saving wildlife and wild places around the world. The fund is a testament to how wildlife conservation is at the core of Busch Gardens’ mission.

@ Busch Gardens

@ Busch Gardens

Busch Gardens is committed to staying at the forefront of animal care and wellness for decades to come. “Zoos of the future will have bigger and better conservation and animal welfare programs,” Jeff Andrews concluded. “We will enhance public appreciation for zoos.”

@ Grayson Ponti

#BuschGardens #SeaWorldSanDiego #SeaWorld #SanDiegoSafariPark #SanDiegoZoo

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I'm a 23-year old wildlife enthusiast, conservation and animal welfare advocate, environmental activist and zoo fanatic who aspires to work in zoo public relations or education. I am here to share some insight into the world's best zoos to show all the great things they are doing. 

 

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© 2017 by Grayson Ponti