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Nov 28, 2011

Positive reinforcement training techniques to enable foot care in giraffes without sedation

The use of positive reinforcement training techniques to enable foot care in giraffes without the risk of sedation

The giraffe training programme at Chester Zoo was set up in December 2008. Foot related problems are common in captive giraffe and are often dealt with by using sedation.

To mitigate the problems and dangers related to anaesthesia our aim was to train our ten year old male giraffe to present his feet treating the overgrown and twisting hoofs. We successfully applied behavioural learning principles techniques that are relatively novel for giraffe in the UK. The methods we used involved target training with positive reinforcement in the form of a food and voice reward.

Our facility incorporates a simple race area allowing us to separate a single giraffe from the group. The separation was also trained the he entered the race on a vocal and visual signal voluntarily. We began the training sessions five days a week and after three months we were able to get the male to place his foot on a specially designed foot block We then followed a training plan which finally allowed us use a file to reduce and shape the hooves.

In the past, without this training, we would have had to anaesthetise the individual, which is potentially life threatening. The training also allowed the animal to live free from discomfort and pain which would have resulted from leaving feet untreated. It has also eliminated the potential dangers which can occur during the anaesthetic. The training allows for the development of a preventive and active health care program for giraffe housed at Chester Zoo.

Chester Zoo

COMMENDATION received in BIAZA Awards 2011 for Significant advances in husbandry and welfare

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