The main difference between training an exotic animal and a domesticated one, is that generally speaking when working with a wild animal, there is a physical barrier between it and you. Safety here is obviously very important, both for the animal and for the trainer. When I work with exotics, I always request at least two other people to be present, just in case something goes wrong.
On one occasion I was asked to train a giraffe to station (stand still) whilst a blood sample was taken from his neck. This giraffe had a discharge from his nose, and an intermittent cough. Without a blood sample, it was difficult for the veterinarians to know what type of antibiotic to administer. And of course, if the giraffe was happy to have blood drawn from his neck, it would also be easier to inject the antibiotics in future, instead of trying to give it in his feed. (administering drugs in food is obviously not as accurate as injecting them).
On our first attempt, I had a researcher and the veterinary nurse with me. Semi-tame animals are often more dangerous than wild ones because they have lost their fear of humans. On top of this, zoos and wild life parks have a fair turn-around of staff, so it becomes very easy for the animal to learn to bully or frighten the new staff. Once they learn to do this, things can become quite difficult. This giraffe was one such fellow. So we decided to keep a 4 metre wall between us. A (rather rickety) ladder was placed alongside the wall.
I initially clicked and treated the giraffe for pushing up against the wall. Then I asked him to lower his head down to my level over the wall. Once he was happy doing this, the vet nurse scooted up the ladder and the giraffe was clicked and treated for accepting her presence there. After a few minutes of this, I asked the nurse to start gently hitting the giraffe on the side of his neck where the blood was to be taken from. Giraffe’s have a tough hide, as they have to push through thorny trees and undergrowth, so a fairly hard smack means nothing to them. Once the giraffe was relaxed about this, I told her to have a go at taking blood. The researcher took over from me and handled the click and treating of the giraffe, whilst I stood at the bottom of the ladder ready to catch the nurse should the giraffe decide to take a swipe at her. She adroitly inserted the needle into a vein and filled a vial. I quickly passed the second vial up and that was filled as well. I doubt that the giraffe even realised anything had happened! After a bit more reinforcement (in the form of mulberry leaves), the nurse slowly backed down the ladder and our work was done.
From start to finish, the whole procedure probably took 20 minutes. A very rewarding experience for both us and the giraffe.
I was asked to train an adult female Bengal tigress, who had come to distrust humans in general. She was so suspicious that she would not even enter the night room if there were people in the corridor. Read More
Woolly Necked Storks
Whilst visiting my mother at Sandown Retirement Village in Pinetown, KwaZulu Natal, I met a friend of hers who had formed a relationship with a pair of woolly necked storks. These are a very gentle member of the stork family, and although wary appear to be quite happy to interact with humans. Read More
I also had to go into the enclosure with the Bactrian camels in order to separate out the one we needed to work with. I wasn’t comfortable with this at all, but had little choice in the matter. Once again there were three of us that went in together. Read More
Gallivating with a Giraffe
On another occasion I was asked to teach a Giraffe to walk through a crush. This crush is about 20 metres long and 10 metres high. The keepers who were responsible for caring for this animal assured me it couldn’t be done. The giraffe had been under their care from some 13 years, and in all that time no-one had been able to get him to go through the crush on cue. Read More
What a thrill to be asked to train an Okapi!! These animals hail from North Africa and are shy creatures of the forest. Their coats have lovely white stripes on them to help break up their outline so that they are not so easily visible to predators. Read More
One of the animals I was asked to work with at the Zoo was a Komodo Dragon. What an honour!! At the time there was only one in the country. The Dragon had been a present from Indonesia to the then President Mandela. Read More
Training Coco the Capuchin Monkey
Coco is a Capuchin monkey with a very inquisitive personality. She loves to open cupboards and throw the contents on to the floor. The fridge is especially enticing, as things break and squish once hurled out. Very rewarding indeed for a naughty little monkey, especially as this behaviour gets her “parents” to spend a lot of their time chasing around after her to try and prevent the chaos she causes. Read More
One day I got a call from the zoo asking whether I’d be interested in trying to rehabilitate a cockatoo. This bird was 14 years old and had been surrendered to the zoo by her owner, who just couldn’t handle her any more. For some reason this parrot had been mutilating herself for years, and her owner had reached the end of her tether. Read More
Plucky the Parrot
Written by my mother, Ruth Quinton
(who insists on calling Noodle “Plucky” because the parrot used to self-mutilate) Read More
The Arrival of Oscar
In a previous tale on this site I explained how we came to get a Medium Sulpher Crested Cockatoo, which we named Noodle. A few months ago, a friend down in Kwa Zulu Natal asked if we would be interested in having her sons’ Umbrella Cockatoo as well. When one is enthusiastic and has just learnt a new skill, one is always keen to put the new-found knowledge to the test. I am no exception to this phenomenon. I had been experimenting with clicker training for just a few years, when a wonderful opportunity presented itself. Read More
Jacquie’s lion capture
Many people in the animal world get caught in strange situations. A friend of mine, Jacquie, is a veterinary nurse, and works for an organisation that gets called in from time to time to confiscate animals that are being kept illegally. Read More
The Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) is found in the Andes mountains in South America. It has the largest wingspan of any bird, averaging 3.2 metres or 10.5 feet. It only hatches one chick every other year, so the survival of this endangered bird relies on captive breeding programs. Read More