Over the past twelve years Amanda Watters has been at the zoo, she has worked with dozens of animals. As the primary carnivore keeper, most of this work is with dangerous animals including big cats with very big teeth. Working with nine different species means that Amanda needs to know how to care for very different animals, all seventeen of which have their very own, unique personalities. These personality traits and animal preferences allow Amanda to determine the best course of action when caring for them.
Recently, Amanda (and the carnivore team) have been working on training Kamau, the male African lion, to allow them to give him shots from his off-exhibit space. Any close contact with an animal of Kamau’s size is a potentially dangerous endeavor, so Amanda works through protected contact (between a mesh barrier) with most of the animals in her care. While another zookeeper feeds Kamau, Amanda gives verbal cues. Working on these behaviors helps prepare the carnivore team for multiple scenarios in which it may be necessary to give him a shot. This includes administering anesthesia for an exam, regular vaccinations, or if needed, giving fluids. Behaviors like this allow the animals the opportunity to participate, voluntarily, in their own health care. All they ask for are lots of treats in exchange!
While working with Kamau, one of the carnivore keepers noticed that he naturally tended to stick the end of his tail under the door. Amanda took this opportunity to teach Kamau to voluntarily move his tail under the door on cue, and to then allow keepers to pick it up. These cues help keepers work toward teaching him new behaviors, such as voluntary blood pressure readings and allowing them to take samples of blood. This will especially help them keep track of his health as he gets older.
All of these behaviors are practiced and worked on for months; through repetition, positive reinforcement and a creation of trust, Kamau and Amanda have been able to work together regularly. Kamau is also given lots of “high value” foods (foods he really likes), and always has the opportunity to walk away if he chooses. This creates trust between Kamau and his keepers, which then makes it more likely that he will willingly participate in the process.
Keepers all over the country are constantly sharing information and ideas regarding the care of the animals at their respective zoos. Amanda has been in touch with other keepers who are currently taking blood pressure readings on their lions while they are awake. Typically, a lion’s blood pressure is only read during an annual exam, while the lion is under anesthesia, which may provide a different reading than when the lion is awake. Amanda’s hope is to eventually take Kamau’s blood pressure reading while he is awake and compare those results to those of her colleagues. This type of collaboration is how all zookeepers learn more about the animals in their care and provide them with the best possible treatment.
Eventually, this information could even contribute to the study and care of lions in the wild, enabling researchers and scientists to detect patterns that could safeguard this species from extinction.
Your help on the Big Day of Giving enables Amanda and the zoo’s other talented zookeepers to provide critical care for the 576 individuals who call the Sacramento Zoo home. Donate on May 3rd to help support these amazing animals and the keepers responsible for their care. Or you can schedule your donation now.
Visit our Big Day of Giving webpage for more information and ways you can help the zoo continue in its mission to inspire an appreciation and respect for all animals.