By Rebecca Husselbee and Daniel Bird
A zoo has trained their incredible recycling-mad sea lions to pick up any litter that falls in their enclosure.
Colchester Zoo resident Winnipeg, 17, now enjoys cleaning her enclosure on a daily basis after she became fascinated with litter when a stray crisp package blew into her pool.
Staff began training the incredible Patagonian sealion to retrieve objects such as leaves and plastic bottles every day – and now the rest of the harem are following suit.
Hayley Wells, Winnipeg’s keeper at the Essex zoo, said: “Winnipeg likes to keep things neat and tidy, which is fine with the team!
“The moment she first brought back the crisp packet, it sparked an idea for us as her keepers to try and share the importance of binning your rubbish and recycling.
“Our ultimate aim here at Colchester Zoo is to reduce our waste and recycle whatever products we can, and with the help of Winnipeg we can encourage all of our visitors to do their part.”
Staff first encouraged Winnipeg to cooperate during training using food as rewards.
But they have now started using plastic bottles as rewards because the adorable aquatic mammal loves them so much.
Trainers now work with the entire colony, which also includes Atlanta, Milan, Paris and Sydney, to practice recycling every day and claim it aids their development.
They said since Winnipeg’s bright idea it took just two months to train all five of their sea lions.
By using the sealions to raise awareness of recycling as well plastic and litter in the rubbish, the zoo have started a presentation, titled Love thy Ocean – explaining to visitors how debris in the oceans affect different animals in the wild.
Hayley added: “The sealions enjoy their training and has become part of their training schedule.
“Winnipeg is by far the noisiest and high spirited of the harem, she is known by the keepers for her fun character and even though she is the smallest of the group she has the biggest personality.
“Rubbish and plastic in our oceans affect all animal species and will also now affect humans. Ingesting plastic has life-threatening effects on wildlife – and this plastic eventually ends up being digested by humans.
“Sealions and other marine wildlife are being found on our oceans with plastic bags tangled around their necks, their feet or paws.”