Zookeepers were able to teach the giraffes how to stand still for hoof trims after spending weeks teaching them several small behaviors

By Georgia Slater
February 16, 2021 02:20 PM
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Credit: Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

Zookeepers at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden have trained all five of their giraffes to willingly participate in their own hoof care — no small feat as the animals are known to be very skittish.

After hours of training — and getting positive reinforcement in the form of crackers — the giraffes at the Ohio zoo have learned how to calmly stand still and offer their feet for hoof trims.

"The hoof trimming procedure doesn't hurt, but it's not exactly a pampering experience like a human pedicure!" Thane Maynard, Cincinnati Zoo director, explained in a press release.

Maynard said the fact that the giraffe team, led by Teresa Truesdale, could train the tall animals to participate in their hoof care is "truly remarkable."

Credit: Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

"Foot health is vitally important for a species that has to balance a lot of weight on extra-long legs," Maynard continued. "The ability to perform maintenance with the animal's cooperation allows the team to do regular checkups without the risks associated with anesthesia."

According to the press release, the zookeepers had to teach the giraffes a series of small behaviors before any actual hoof care could occur.

The first step was to get each giraffe to recognize a "target" and touch it with their nose, which was then reinforced until the task was mastered.

Other behaviors such as lifting the foot, getting used to seeing a block in the barn, placing a foot on the block, and curling the foot under were added and repeated during the training process.

Each of these small behaviors took weeks for the giraffes to fully learn.

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"Our goal is to make sure that the giraffes are comfortable and active," Truesdale, the zoo's primary giraffe trainer, said. "Hoof overgrowth can lead to broken bones, torn ligaments, and general pain that ultimately discourages movement."

In 2019, the zoo brought in world-renowned farrier Steve Foxworth to share his best hoof care practices with the zoo's giraffe keepers and vet staff.

Foxworth is an expert in hoof care for small and large hooved mammals. His collaboration with the zoo is ongoing and zookeepers continue to attend his workshops and go to him for guidance.