SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment has always been a leader in the areas of conservation and ground-breaking initiatives. Last year, the company made the decision to stop using plastic bags in the parks, making SeaWorld Parks the largest theme park operator to make this commitment. The park has also embraced the concept of reducing, reusing and recycling with their cup that cares reusable souvenir cup, available at SeaWorld.
The latest initiative puts Busch Gardens on a baaaaack-to-the-basics path to low-tech landscaping and green gardening techniques (pardon the pun, and be warned that there might be more). The forward-thinking Williamsburg park has come up with an effort to reduce and conserve its carbon footprint, and it seems to be working wonderfully.
Usually seen at the Highland Stables in the Scotland village, guests can now gaze upon the park’s flock of 17 Scottish black-face sheep as they graze on the sloping hill beneath the tracks of Verbolten. These workers in wool have been trained to test an innovative, environmentally friendly program called “targeted grazing.”
You may be asking, what exactly is targeted grazing? Put quite simply, it involves training the animals, whether sheep, cows or whatever, to naturally manage the landscaping by eating and grazing on the grass and plants from certain areas. Sheep typically eat clover, grass and broad-leaf flowering plants called forbs.
In addition to the benefits of green gardening, the sheep are a natural fit for the park’s sloping terrain. Sheep are skilled and sure-footed on steep slopes that can sometimes present a problem for two-footed landscapers.
Environmental and operational benefits of targeted grazing include:
- A reduction in the need for powered lawn equipment – which reduces the park’s carbon footprint
- A savings of nearly 100 gallons of fuel a year
- Production of manure for the grass and ground
- Savings of nearly 288 labor hours a year, time that can be used for other landscaping initiatives - ones that require hands rather than hooves - such as the planting, pruning and edging of flowers
Implementing the targeted grazing program at Busch Gardens Williamsburg involved a number of points that included preparing the landscape, training the animals, scheduling the new crew and expanding the program.
The first step was to examine the types of plants and greenery growing beneath the Verbolten’s steel tracks. This sloping, hilly area sits along the park’s Rhine River, and was the former home of the Big Bad Wolf.
Jay Tacy, Busch Gardens’ zoological operations manager …
Before launching the program, we extensively studied the toxicology of the plants in the park. We scoured the area and removed any plants that might not be good for sheep. We haven’t had to remove much. The sheep graze on what they’re supposed to.”
The sheep had to learn to ignore the noise of nearby roller coasters in the area, positive reinforcement techniques were used to get the sheep accustomed to their new landscape.
Stephanie Peters, animal care specialist at Busch Gardens and one of several trainers, said,
We took them out for an hour or two in the morning before the park opened when Verbolten was not running. After several positive tests, we brought the sheep out while the coaster was operating. When one of the coasters came around, we would give the sheep food and other forms of positive reinforcement as the coaster train passed over them. If the sheep ignored the ride or moved close to a trainer instead of running away, we positively reinforced this behavior.”
Quick learners, the sheep became acclimated to the roller coasters within a time frame of about two days. It takes some of us that long just to figure out a new phone (I won’t elaborate on that).
On average, the sheep graze for about five hours a day, depending upon the weather. Don’t worry, the sheep are not brought out to graze during unfavorable weather conditions
Busch Gardens' targeted grazing program began earlier this summer. The program has been so successful that the park is looking into other ways that animals can help out. Currently, they are training an avian “clean-up crew,” which consists of two turkeys and four chickens. The birds will be released behind the sheep to eat ticks and other parasites while spreading the manure produced by the sheep.
The chickens and turkeys are still young so they’re in the barn getting used to the sheep, hearing the music in the park and undergoing training sessions,” said Peters. “They’re being trained to recall to the trainer with a cowbell and also to enter an animal carrier when called. Eventually, we will deploy them under the roller coaster and let them do their thing.”
Now that is something I want to see – a trained turkey.
The targeted grazing program is the first initiative of its kind for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, the park’s parent company. Across its 11 theme parks, the SeaWorld company cares for one of the largest collections of animals in the world.
I can't wait to visit Busch Gardens and check out this fun new animal ambassador endeavor. How about you? Have ewe seen the hooved helpers at Busch Gardens Williamsburg? Last pun, I promise.
Please visit SomewhereInTheSand.com to read even more about the targeted grazing project at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.