Bshary study

Lisa Trimmel (Intern)



I was asked in November if I could support the WSC team in carrying out an experiment, the Bshary study, and of course, my answer was “yes”. This study aims at understanding whether the animals can recognize eventualities and opportunities. The wolves and dogs can choose between two people. One is referred to as a family partner who is always available and from whom the animals always get a piece of meat if they choose them. The second partner is the unfamiliar partner who is only available for a short time. If the dog chooses the family partner first, he misses the opportunity to get a piece of meat from the other partner. In this way, the animal should learn which partner to choose first in order to get more food. This sure is a lot of theoretical information, but when it comes to animals things always turned out a little different.

By now, we all got to know the special personality traits the WSC wolves and dogs have, and these came out in the test too! For example, when the position of the two partners had to be switched during testing we had to be very careful in doing so. The cute Wamblee, who is actually afraid of legs, would freak out from time to time. The trainers always had to distract him while we slowly and carefully switched places.

Nevertheless, I can confirm that you need more patience and persuasiveness with wolves. Sometimes Yukon was very eager to work, but there were other days when she just wasn't that motivated. The trainers had to come up with something again! Some animals, including Yukon, think it's great when you speak in a high-pitched, squeaky and loud voice. You cannot even imagine how difficult it is to stay serious. In addition, Panya a female dog was really appreciating the acute notes: this always helped a lot with her because otherwise she would feel too insecure to carry out the session. But if the trainer squeals, the world is a lot better.

However, there were also a bunch of wolves who were happy when we arrived to the enclosure with our equipment and did a great job. So sweet old Kaspar was always a good soul to rely on. When we went in the direction of his enclosure, he was already in the starting blocks and wanted to get going right away. On the other hand, Nanuk, Una and Tala were not interested in what we were doing here and what we wanted from them: in fact, after repeated attempts we eventually gave up and they were not tested.

I was very happy to see how the "Russians", so Taima, Tekoa and Maikan, became more and more brave with every session. The three of them are more fearful and reserved. However, they would never say no to a few pieces of meat. With each session the trust in us grew and they got closer and closer.

Testing the dogs was often funny too. Hiari has proven to be the greatest diva among dogs. Because if the ground was too muddy, then he didn't want to stand there and certainly not sit. For him, one of the trainers had to put a large wooden plate in the enclosure so that the gentleman could sit on it.

Haida is already an older female dog and we didn't know at first if she could take part in the study. But we quickly noticed how much she enjoyed it. She got very restless when she knew it was going to start soon and when it was finally her turn, she jumped around like a puppy. To our astonishment she was even the best of the dogs.

Lastly, I feel the need to mention the “Amazing Gate”: nobody was looking forward to a session when we had to test the wolves in the enclosure on the right side of the test house. Here the holes in the fence were a bit smaller than usual hence the meat pieces would either get stuck on it or never quite make it in the enclosure. Lots of meat had to be sacrificed with a background of uncontainable laughter.

In the end, I would like to say that testing was always a lot of fun: not one single session went by without a great amount of laughter, always off camera. Even though we had to stand outside in the cold for a long time in all kinds of weathers. I am happy to have had so many beautiful and funny experiences with the animals but also with the team. So finally, thank you very much for this amazing and unexpected experience!