As part of our Carnivore Week, visitors may have seen our keepers undertaking training sessions with some of our big cats.
A successful training programme is important in helping zoo keepers take care of their animals, with training undertaken for a variety of husbandry reasons, including moving animals and getting them to voluntarily participate in their own veterinary care.
And we’ve seen great results from Taiga and Makalu, our snow leopards, who have proved to be perfect pupils, having been trained to not only step on scales for weight measurements, but to also accept medical injections for vaccinations and anaesthetic drugs for a medical procedure by hand in a calm and controlled environment.
And all this has been carried out during a four-month period of short ten-minute sessions.
Through a reward-based method for correct behaviours, keepers began encouraging the leopards to touch a wooden target with their nose and holding for a set amount of time, until staff click a button and reward them with a chunk of meat.
Both leopards were confident with this after just a few sessions, allowing keepers to move on to injection training, which is carried out in an off-show den.
Through the target training, keepers are able to get the leopards onto a platform and into position between the mesh and a strategically placed wooden log, to receive an injection from a secondary person in either their hind or shoulder.
Introducing the cats to actual injections is a gradual process, with keepers starting with a bamboo stick to poke the leopards’ sides, so they’re used to the feeling.
A bamboo stick is then replaced with a blunt needle before moving on to a real needle, which increases in size.
The zoo vet is then able to initially inject them with sterile water, so the cats get used to the new sensation, before working up to administering the actual injection, which when the time comes, both leopards successfully receive without issue.
And training continues with both Taiga and Makalu, as keepers are now working with them for further medical procedures, including drawing blood from their tails.