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Training makes vet exams easier

If you visited the zoo a couple of weeks ago, you may have found yourself scratching your head, thinking you were pretty sure there are usually three lions in the lion habitat- and you’re right! For three days in a row, we had only two lions out at a time while the third underwent a routine veterinary procedure. Azizi was the first to go while Hondo and Hatari went outside into the habitat, then Hatari and Hondo took their turns the following two days.

Since these were just routine, scheduled procedures, we knew way ahead of time that they were going to happen and could prepare. We work with our lions using a method called “protected contact”. This means we never share the same space as them. Despite always having a safety barrier between us, giving them an injection really isn’t difficult at all! The lions are all trained to receive hand injections while lying on a bench against a metal mesh wall that gives us great access to their entire side. We practice with them regularly, so they are pros at jumping up onto the bench and positioning their hip for an injection from one of our amazing veterinary technicians. The veterinary technicians even come up to practice with us in the weeks leading up to a procedure so that the lions are used to their presence. When we’re practicing, we use a blunt needle to apply a little bit of pressure on their hip to simulate the experience of receiving an injection. When they calmly allow us to give them a pretend injection, they get meat as a reinforcer. With this method, everything looks exactly the same on the day of a procedure as it does on a practice day, so the lions do not experience any stress when the procedure begins. After they receive their injection, we shift them into a den and dim the lights while they slowly drift off to sleep for the duration of the vets’ exam.

Because of this training, all three lions were able to be calmly hand injected for their checkups, and they are now all back in the habitat together.
Michelle Elliott
Keeper II, Mammals

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