Zen in her favorite spot on a high perch protected on two sides.

My trips to Maymont have a purpose other than to make Super Daughter insanely jealous because I got to help train an otter: I’m getting expert guidance on how to work with Zen. Training her based on negative reinforcement—do what I want and I’ll go away—will build an increasingly perverted relationship over time. So I have to be able to give her positive reinforcement (food) for us to be able to work together in a constructive way.

The first step in turning this Queen Mary is to get her to take food from me. She refuses to eat in my presence, so we need to change that. Yesterday I sat outside her enclosure with a dish of yummy mice waiting for her on a table inside her space. All she had to do is come down and get them. She refused. When I got bored waiting, I removed the food. We went through three hour-long sessions yesterday with no success. At the end of the day, I left some dog food (her least favorite meal) which she devoured after I went inside.

Zen in retreat after snacking on an egg in private

This morning was slightly better. She flew down to a lower perch twice before losing her nerve. It then occurred to me that having her jump down to get the food was perhaps a bridge too far. So I put two mice in a dish on the ledge next to her perch. The first time, she paced up and down on the branch, kept looking at the food, but couldn’t bring herself to grab it with me nearby. Four hours later I tried again. This time, I averted my eyes while standing in the enclosure door. Then I heard a choking sound. Zen had finally grabbed a mouse and gobbled it down so quickly that it caused her to gag. She ate a total of three more before she started pacing with her beak open—a sign of stress. So I declared victory. I’m hoping tomorrow, she’ll bounce over to the food quicker and once she’s comfortable with that, I’ll try to get her to come down from her safe space.