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Keeper Stories – Thursday, January 19

It’s about time again for a giraffe training update! I believe when we last checked in, all but our oldest, Abu, were shifting through our giraffe “tamer” apparatus. We are very proud to announce that all four of our boys are now confidently walking though the chute system. We have been successful in getting them to stop while inside the tamer to obtain their monthly weights with the help of the built-in scale. This allows us to better track their health and body condition. Now it’s on to the next adventure, training for voluntary blood draws! In order to facilitate and fast track this training, we have modified our schedules so that training occurs every morning before we shift them out into their habitat (weather permitting of course). If you recall my last blog, I mentioned that the tamer has a series of doors. We are currently working on getting all of the giraffes comfortable with walking into the tamer with the front door closed. They are still free to come and go as they like, but are reinforced with extra treats if they do decide to come over to the tamer.

All of the boys are in various stages of comfort with this newly implemented training. Abu and Isooba tend to be the most cautious with the tamer to begin with and are just starting to approach it with the front door closed. Etana and Zuberi are really excelling, though. They have both made it all of the way into the tamer and stand calmly while we reinforce. We have also started to desensitize them to their necks being touched by keepers. Contrary to popular belief, we really don’t “pet” the giraffes. The only time we do any tactile activities is in training for veterinary checks and procedures. So adding a touch element to the training is a big step for our giraffe boys, who generally don’t appreciate neck rubs.
The next steps are simple but could take a fairly long period of time depending on our giraffes’ comfort levels. Once they are comfortable with their necks being touched, we bring in one of our vet techs, Joy, to our training routine. She comes to us from Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado, which is well known for their success with voluntary blood draws with giraffes. She will use a blunt needle and apply pressure to the giraffe’s neck in order to simulate the actual blood draw. This process needs to be perfected before bringing in the real needle and attempting the procedure. The acquisition of blood samples is just another way to check on our animal’s well-being, and these types of positive reinforcement training programs help the animals participate in their own care. We’re excited to add this new behavior to our giraffes’ repertoire and will continue to keep you in the loop! Stay tuned for more updates!
Bridget Smith
Keeper I, Mammals

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl