View from the Zoo: Giraffes put their best hooves forward
For this week's column we are going to let you in on a secret on how we train and look after one of the taller residents here at Flamingo Land.
The zoo is lucky to have 11 giraffes in two separate enclosures and houses at the zoo and as you can imagine that is a lot of work!
In one of our houses we have three females called Charlotte, Amber and Zara as well as a male called Shingo. Their welfare includes giving them a balanced diet. As giraffes reahc heights of nearly 16 foot, their food is placed high up to match how they would eat in the wild.
Zoo keepers have a special method of training giraffes which take many months and also looking after their hooves. At the zoo we often get asked how do we look after their feet?
The aim of the training is to be able to apply hoof oil as well as trimming and filing as necessary to improve hoof shape and maintain shape over time. This will be done through protected contact, meaning there will still be a barrier between the keeper and the giraffe but still gives us access to their feet and lower legs.
To get to this point target training is undertake with involves using a target stick for them to follow and become comfortable with.
Vocal commands such as ‘hold’ and ‘touch’ are then introduced. As they grow in confidence we can hopefully guide the giraffes to step onto a block which will be the hoof care station.
During the spring and summer season willow will be the best reward for all the giraffes, however during the winter months rewards will probably be vegetable based, such as parsnip, carrot and squash.
It can take between three and four months for a giraffe to learn to place their foot on a block, have it brushed then lift it up to be trimmed.
Charlotte (being the greediest and most confident) is progressing rapidly but with patience the others will soon follow.
Sadly the reason we have giraffes and dedicate so much to their care is because their numbers in the wild are going down.
Two giraffes calves have been born at the zoo this year as part of an international breeding programme.