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Training with the savanna animals

Hi everyone! Nadia here. I’m writing to you from the Mammal Team! For this blog I’m going to tell you a little bit about what it takes to care for these animals in my area. Our side of the Mammal Team takes care of giraffes, zebras, warthogs, ostriches and a Reeves’s muntjac deer named Marvin. Needless to say, every day is different, and we really do learn something new every day! Being an animal care professional is a little like solving a puzzle. For example, how to give water to animals. This might sound like a really simple thing to do. However, animals like warthogs spend a lot of their time rooting through dirt for food. This translates to ‘they like to toss, flip and throw everything in their pathway’ – including their water bowls! As it’s really important for our warthogs to have access to fresh water at all times, we’ve come up with a solution! By putting large rocks at the bottom of their bowls, we can make it heavy enough to stop them from flipping it over. 

Another cool thing that we get to do is training. Even though our team cares for animals weighing up to 2,600 pounds, the same basic principles of positive reinforcement training apply that would to your cat or dog. By training the animals to participate in their own care, we can enhance their well-being. 

The warthogs are trained to lie down next to a window in their door, which allows us to spray mineral oil all over their bodies. Why? Warthogs are part of the pig family. Similar to pigs, warthogs can’t sweat! This means that they spend hot summer days in wallows to cool off, which also hydrates their skin. During the winter, the warthogs understandably don’t want to spend their time in wallows, and so their skin can get a little dry. By being able to coat them with mineral oil, we can keep their skin hydrated.

Some other important training behaviors include moving forward or backing up on cue. This allows us to shift the animals, such as giraffes, to different areas of their habitats. The giraffes have also learned a ‘tongue’ behavior where they will hold their tongue out on cue. By being able to move the giraffes to specific areas, or hold their tongues out, we’re able to get a good look at specific parts of their bodies. 

These are just a couple of the behaviors trained in our part of the Zoo, but I hope it gave you a good idea of what we get up to behind the scenes as we look forward to the opening of the all-new African Savanna this summer!
Nadia M.
Keeper I, Mammals  

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl