by NEW Zoo Intern, Adam Pankratz
Recently, I was given the opportunity for a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the giraffes’ morning routine. Every morning, Hodari and Zuri are weighed, have their hooves and legs cleaned, and are put through training exercises by their zookeepers. In order to do all these things, the NEW Zoo has a special piece of equipment for holding the giraffes in place. This device, called the Giraffe Tamer, is essentially a giant squeeze chute. A squeeze chute is like a platform with a door to the front and one at the back, and with very tall walls on either side that can be pushed inwards towards the center. These walls are padded and do not harm the giraffe. The back door is closed behind the giraffe after he walks in; then the front door is opened for the giraffe to walk out of the Tamer when the training session is complete.
Each day, Hodari and Zuri take turns entering the device, and getting secured in place when a keeper gently pushes the sides of the Tamer against the body of the animal. The Giraffe Tamer has small panels that open in various locations on all sides, allowing the keepers to have access to the hooves, legs, belly, or even tail. This helps the keepers to clean the animals, check for bumps or bruises, and even take blood samples. The device also acts as a scale; Hodari currently weighs in at 2,510 pounds, while Zuri is a petite 1,350 pounds!
It has taken some time for both Hodari and Zuri to get comfortable with walking into and being held in place within the Tamer device. Zuri in particular has taken a few years to get comfortable. During her initial training, there were days where it would take her hours before she would finally enter the chute. But, thankfully, both giraffes are now at the point where they will allow the keepers to touch them anywhere while held in place.
While a giraffe is in the chute, there are two keepers working together to go through their routine. One keeper works on the upstairs portion of the Giraffe Tamer, keeping the giraffe calm, offering treats, and checking on the eyes and face. Meanwhile, the keeper downstairs cleans the hooves and legs, while also checking on the belly and tail of the animal. The two keepers work together on training exercises; both Hodari and Zuri are in the process of being trained to lift a hoof on command. The keeper below gives the command, and if the giraffe responds, it gets a treat from the keeper above. This process is a little more difficult with Zuri, as she is still somewhat uneasy in the chute. She doesn’t always accept food when inside and can occasionally be unresponsive. There was a time when she was even uncomfortable with a keeper being upstairs with her. Hodari, on the other hand, will never refuse a treat!
In addition to learning to lift their hooves one at a time, the keepers are working to get both giraffes comfortable with the sound of a hoof grinder. Once they are comfortable with the noise, the grinder will be used to trim and work on their hooves. Hodari, being the more comfortable of the two, is even learning to accept having a harness on his head. This allows the keepers to have more control of his movements when checking out his eyes and face!
It would not be possible for the Zoo to have Hodari and Zuri if it wasn’t for this amazing Giraffe Tamer device. Although it was very expensive, it has been worth every penny to have them here with us! With the warming temperatures, Hodari and Zuri have been spending much of their time outside recently, so be sure to come by and say hello to our gentle giants!
Tags: animals, giraffe, training, zoo