Weighing giraffes no tall order at Wellington Zoo
Wednesday, 12 January, 2022
New weighing equipment installed in Wellington Zoo’s giraffe enclosure is making it easier to look after the health and well-being of three precious giraffes - with iceberg lettuce offered as a healthy reward for their participation.
The zoo installed a new “trainer” in the giraffe enclosure late last year, which is a huge metal stall with padded sides that allows zoo staff to inspect the giraffes at ground level and at height. It is safe for zoo staff and the giraffes.
The team has added Gallagher loadbars under the trainer, which enables them to weigh the zoo’s eldest giraffe Zahara, her niece Zuri and their companion Sunny.
Team leader of herbivores and birds Glyn Avery says Zahara has been the most receptive to the new equipment so far, but Zuri and Sunny are still a little cautious.
“Zahara is very confident. She is using the trainer quite happily and wandering into it with the promise of plenty of healthy treats. She’s very partial to an iceberg lettuce and we sometimes chop up carrots and give them to her as well.”
The team also uses herbivore pellets as extra motivation, which contain supplements and special oils to keep the giraffes’ coats shiny and hooves in good health.
At 17, checking Zahara’s weight regularly is key to ensuring she remains in peak health. She weighs around 896kgs, but Glyn says giraffe weights can fluctuate throughout the season.
Keeping a close eye on Zahara’s weight means if there are any changes outside the normal range, they can call in expert vets to check her over. The zoo also has The Nest Te Kōhanga on site, an animal hospital and centre for native wildlife.
“Making sure we have this equipment and all the data is crucial to how we look after our animals here at the zoo. It means we can get the basic information we need without having to take animals down to The Nest, unless we really need to,” says Glyn.
While Zahara is comfortable with the trainer, Glyn says Zuri and Sunny are yet to step on the scales, but they are becoming more familiar with the equipment.
“Zuri and Sunny have definitely been a bit more cautious. But we can see they are curious, so it’s a case of desensitising them to the trainer. As they get used to it being in their space, they will no doubt develop the confidence to walk through it too.”
Zoos around the world use a software system called “ZIMS”, which collects data on all animals and allows comparisons to be made no matter where the animals located. This means the Wellington Zoo team can see how other giraffes are performing and how Zahara, Zuri and Sunny’s health is tracking.
Because the giraffes at Wellington Zoo have constant access to their enclosure, the team can get regular updates on their weight.
“It’s a fundamental tool for proactively managing their health and they are willing participants. We’re not having to sedate animals to assess them,” says Glyn. “They are doing it all on their own, albeit with a few treats for encouragement!”
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