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Struggling to train a puppy? At this Ventura County zoo, students are learning to train exotic animals

A student at America's Teaching Zoo in Moorpark training a hawk.

There’s a small but unique teaching zoo in Ventura County, schooling the exotic animal trainers of tomorrow.

A tiger is being gently trained to go into their crate at America’s Teaching Zoo in Moorpark.

Doing the training is student Bailey Dalao – who is standing close, but outside of, the tiger’s enclosure, and using encouraging words and a special treat….a bottle of bloody water!

Dalao is one of many students at the school on a program to learn Exotic Animal Training Management.

She says the opportunity to get up close with tigers, is a dream come true.

"In kindergarten people asked me what I wanted to be, and I would say, 'I want to work with tigers at the zoo,' and they'd say, 'you want to be a zookeeper?'

"But I'd say, 'No, it's more than that. I want to be up close and personal'. So it's my whole lifelong dream," said Dalao.

Meanwhile, faculty Instructor Gary Mui is working with other students, who are training a hawk.

"One of the coolest things about it is that the students already have the passion," said Mui.

"They come here and they love animals. So it's about the discipline and the daily routine of working with the animals.

"And learning not just about the animals but building relationships with them. Half of it is them learning the animals, but the other half is the animals get to learn them."

Mara Rodriguez from America’s Teaching Zoo says it’s a unique school, as well as the only zoo located in Ventura county.

"There are schools that teach animal behavior and animal science. There's even a zoo-keeping school," she says. "But we are the only college with a zoo on site that focuses on wildlife education and animal training."

She says it gives students hands on experience that they can't get anywhere else, not even at university.

Rodriguez says that zoos might get some bad press, but the work they do in conservation is critical.

"More conservation takes places at zoos than anywhere else," she said.

"In the wild - where people would love to see these animals - animals are struggling and dealing with malnutrition and disease and lack of habitat.

"What we need to do it take a look at the wild, where these animals should be living, and do our part as humans to step up to the plate and make some changes."

America’s Teaching Zoo is open to visitors at weekends.

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