NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) - You may think it’s all fun and games behind the scenes at the Audubon Zoo, but it takes a lot of work to get the day going, and the sea lions are no exception. Trainers and staff spend hours every day making sure the animals are ready.
And it’s more mundane than you realize. The sea lion exhibit is scrubbed daily since the animals can make quite a mess at night and everything needs to be pristine before they can start their day.
Over in the kitchens, each sea lion’s food is measured out precisely. Every animal is different - even if they’re the same species - and their diets must be adjusted based on gender, age, size and even what season of the year it is! All the food must meet USDA regulations. Yep, you heard right: The food these sea lions eat is up to the same standards as the restaurants where you dine, from quality of the food to cleanliness of the facility.
It's also important to have the animals ready for a medical exam. While the exams are only as needed, the behaviors are practiced every morning to keep them fresh. Trainers make sure the activity is associated with something pleasurable, like food, and not always negative, like a shot or medicine.
There is one sea lion that is a little different. Lilli gradually went blind and needs to go through her routine by touch to help lead her activities. Even though she can’t see, her trainers say she’s smart, still loves to learn and through touch can catch on quickly.
It’s important to remember the sea lions at Audubon aren’t being forced to perform or to practice. Just like all animals, including us humans, sometimes they aren’t in the mood. And that’s OK. If they want to practice, it’s always with positive reinforcement as a reward for their enrichment and enjoyment.
So the next time you make your way to the Audubon Zoo for the opening of the day, remember, the staff and animals already have a big head start.