Zoo animals get desensitised to treatment methods for stress-free medicals

The new techniques will make cleaning the elephants' teeth easier
The new techniques will make cleaning the elephants' teeth easier Copyright AP
Copyright AP
By Euronews with AP
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Trick or treatment? Programming zoo animals to keep calm for the vet


It's a twist in the old carrot and stick routine.

Lloyd the Tasmanian devil is being trained to get used to being touched with a stick – to simulate a needle.

"It's important for medical reasons. We're able to do a lot of different procedures, such as giving injections, doing blood draws," says Beth Geraldene from the carnivore department of Melbourne Zoo.

All kinds of residents, like Lloyd, are being taught to take part in their own medical treatment.

It means carnivores and other potentially dangerous animals can easily have procedures without sedatives and high-stress methods which are risky for animals and humans.

"What we used to do is go in there and physically restrain the animal or net them," says zookeeper Bianca Papadopoulos.

"Intervening with an animal can be stressful for the animal, but it is also stressful for the vets," says head vet Dr Michael Lynch.

For more than a year this kind of conditioning has been expanded to a wide range of animals.

The types of procedures they are now able to do without sedatives range from the very basic, to the deep and intricate.

"We can do teeth cleans, the elephants do artificial inseminations, we've trained the elephants to participate, so really the sky is the limit," says Papadopoulos.

The close, regular interaction between keepers and animals also means they can monitor over time how animals are developing.

Keepers and vets are on the lookout for early warning signs, like shoulder, foot problems or arthritis, to then be proactive with medical treatment.

That's particularly important in zoos, because animals tend to live longer, than their wild counterparts.

"They get elderly diseases, and so we've got to make sure, say, our elderly snake that's getting handled, it doesn't have spinal arthritis," says Lynch.

New-age thinking, for age-old problems.

Video editor • Christophe Pitiot

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