The Story Behind the Handstand
As long as you live, keep learning how to live.
During Rachel's training career, she was part of a team who was caring for a juvenile male gorilla who had more energy than he knew what to do with. Rachel wanted to make sure that he had the best day, every day, which included high-energy bouts of positive behavior to help him through his "teenage" years.
Rachel devoted a lot of time to building her relationship with this gorilla named Bolingo. For hours, she would work with him through new behaviors such as the "match to sample" activity where he learned different shapes and colors, and more fun behaviors such as fast runs, spins, and somersaults. Bolingo also enjoyed mimicking his trainers.
During an enriching session, Rachel and Bolingo were mimicking one another, seeing who could place their feet higher on the window. Rachel soon saw the opportunity to expand upon this and work it into a handstand behavior, which took the internet by storm and went viral in a matter of days.
This behavior was a lot of fun for Bolingo and Rachel to work through together, but the basis behind it was important for many reasons.
In positive reinforcement training, it is fairly simple to work with an animal through the steps of learning a new behavior. Step by step, trainer and animal can work to achieve a lot together. What was special about this handstand behavior was the work that Rachel and Bolingo put into their relationship for years prior. This enabled Rachel to push Bolingo to trust himself and place himself in a body position he hadn't done before. Bolingo trusted the process and worked himself into the handstand position, completing the behavior!
Since learning the behavior, it has become one of Bolingo's favorites. He often does it on his own during a high energy session! The trust, confidence, and joy in Rachel & Bolingo's relationship has grown and this behavior has sparked wide interest in gorilla behavior, cognition, and animal training on a global scale. It has served as an important indicator of how important it is to build strong relationships with the animals we call our coworkers. Most importantly, it has helped spark conversation about positive reinforcement training and helped show others how truly amazing gorillas are.
This handstand video garnered Rachel a global audience that allowed her to share her passion for animals, training, and conservation.
Moving forward with this support, she was able to start this not-for-profit organization and build a community of conservationists who are poised to be the game changers of this planet.
Bolingo & Rachel were featured together in 20+ countries worldwide, including the following networks: