Meet Avocado, Wasabi, and Pickles!
Hello! I’m Becky, the Associate Curator of Ambassador Animals. That means I get the privilege of working with the team to determine when we bring in new animals, and then I work on the logistics of from where and when they will come to the Zoo. If you’ve been to the petting zoo in the past couple weeks, you may have noticed some new additions watching the action from the side yard. Avocado, Wasabi, and Pickles are 6-month-old Nigerian dwarf goats who came to the Zoo a few months ago from a local farm. How do we pick animals that will become part of our petting zoo? That’s a great question.
First, we decide which breed will work best with our current herd and if we want boys or girls, also based on herd dynamics. Once we determine that, I contact several local farms that have the breed to find out if they are willing to go through the rigorous process of getting approved. For other Zoo animals, we usually get animals from other accredited zoos, but for goats, it’s hard to do that. So once we found a farm we are happy with, we started to talk to them about our wants, even before the goats are born. We go to the farm to ensure they take great care of their animals, check references, and discuss their animal care with their veterinarian. If all that checks out, we then move forward with the farm. The farm watches all their babies and helps us select some that they think will be a good fit for a petting zoo. The kids stay with their moms until they are fully weaned; then we pick them up and bring them to the Zoo. The farm provides some familiar items and food to help with their transition, and they receive excellent care from our Quarantine Keeper and Veterinary Team when they first arrive. They spend some time in routine quarantine, which is a quiet place to get used to their new location, and our Veterinary Team spends time with them every day, letting them know humans are good to approach for pats, scratches, and even food.
Once they are ready, they leave quarantine and move into the barn, but not with the rest of the goats quite yet. These newest girls spent about a week in our empty pig area (the pigs have moved to another Zoo space for a new and enriching opportunity), and the care team spent about four hours a day in with the girls to get to know them and let them get to know us. The next step was to bring them to the area next to the other goats so they could see and smell them, but not make contact. They were very curious about the herd, and the herd was very curious about them. This entire time, we are also continuing to work on their manners to teach them that nibbling on fingers and clothes is not okay, and neither is jumping on people for attention. We do this by simply walking away if they do those things, then return and if they are not engaging in these undesirable behaviors, they get more pats and scratches.
They are also learning to wait at open gates until called through. After another week, we started to introduce them to the herd with a meet-and-greet with Steve and Bucky, our 3-year-old Nigerian dwarf goats. The girls learned quickly to treat the bigger boys with respect, with care team members around to watch all interactions. A few days later it was time to introduce them to the sheep and then to the rest of the 3-year-old goats, Alvin, Simon, and Theodore. Once we saw great interactions with this group, we knew it was safe to introduce to them to the big boys. We let the girls into the petting zoo with the whole herd before the Zoo opened. Not only did they enjoy meeting the herd, but they practiced their parkour skills off the rocks and tables which were new to them. They still looked to their human caregivers if they were nervous or got separated from one another, so we always had a keeper there with them. After a week of this regimen, we have now begun to bring them into the petting zoo with guests. For now, we are asking guests to not approach them within a couple feet and to not touch them until given the okay from the keeper who is stationed with them. The girls are adapting nicely to the space, and we expect to have them in the area for longer and longer periods of time until they are ready to spend the whole day out there.
While all this is happening, about a week ago, the Ambassador Animals Team started training the girls all their foundation behaviors. They have learned to target their noses to a hand; turn in a circle, jump on and off objects; come when called; and back up. The next task is to teach them to station in one location for voluntary hoof trims. We are so glad to have them as part of the herd, and hope you come to the Zoo to check them out in person!
Associate Curator, Ambassador Animals