If you’ve visited the Zoo in the last couple of weeks, you may have seen the bird department engaged in activity with radio-controlled boats.

We know what you’re thinking, and it does appear to be frivolous play, but this was actually very important (and potentially life-saving) training. 

The goal is to maneuver the boats to be used as a method of herding our large flocks of pelicans that are found on both the Main Lake and the Children’s Zoo Lake. 

Occasionally, we must herd one or more of the pelicans off of the lakes for various reasons, such as a health check-up or a safety concern. Ideally, we are able to pick them up in the feeding pens, but that doesn’t always happen. If a pelican is injured or not feeling well, it may not be coming in to eat.

In the past when this has happened, we have had to pull together a large number of boats and staff to herd the pelicans into a specific area. This is very labor intensive, time consuming and stressful to both the birds and keepers. Additionally, the pelicans are very maneuverable in the water and easily evade our manned-boats.

To remedy this issue and with the overall health of our animals in mind, we were open to new ideas… and we definitely found a unique one!

We recently learned of other zoos using radio-controlled boats as a way of herding their pelicans to a desired area. This is a faster, more effective and much less stressful procedure for the keepers and more importantly, the pelicans.

We’ve only completed one test with the birds so far, but the results were positive. Indeed, we need more practice to become more precise with maneuvering the boats, but are looking forward to trying it out in a real-life situation.