Head of the Animal Enrichment Programme, Karin Pienaar, during training with the male elephant.

Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo in partnership with Centre of Applied Pet Ethology (COAPE) has undertaken an animal behaviour enrichment programme that is aimed at teaching the elephants and animals at the zoo at large behaviours that will make it easier to care for the animals.

The elephants at the zoo are receiving husbandry training which involves training them to put their feet up for manicures and bending their ears so blood samples can be drawn and medical care can be administered without having to sedate them.

The behaviour enrichment programme aims to stimulate natural behaviours that the animals would’ve done in the wild according to Karin Pienaar, COAPE’s Head of the Animal Enrichment and Training Programme at the Johannesburg Zoo.

“Our animals are kept in captivity which means they are very well fed and they don’t have to work for their food so we’re implementing different ways of getting them to look for their food instead of them getting it on a silver platter,” Pienaar explained.

The zoo is also in the process of beginning to construct a new enclosure for the elephants in an effort to get them more active.

“There will be a new dam, mud bath and lots of things to get the more active as well,” Pienaar said.

The importance of activity for animals cannot be overstated as being overweight can strain their organs which would ultimately lead to death.

The elephants are responding well to the rewards based training which started a month ago Pienaar says. She further notes that choice plays a big role when coming to training animals.

“It has to be a choice because if you have the idea of control over your environment it goes a long way towards behavioural health. It helps you feel a whole lot more safe and secure so we let them choose,” Pienaar explained.

One of the victories of the training part of the programme has been teaching the elephants to respond to the ‘trunk down’ command which is a safety position.

This, according to Pienaar, is one of the first steps towards reaching the ultimate goal of being able to safely examine the animals without them being sedated.

Sowetans can look forward to visiting the zoo and getting a better experience with the animals as they are currently undergoing enrichment which means they will be more active.

Source: Soweto Urban.