January 30, 2020
Animal care is at the heart of what we do every day at the Zoo. Our curators and zoological managers from each animal unit selected their favorite 2019 accomplishment for animal care.
As an Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) accredited institution, the Saint Louis Zoo continues to have an extraordinary focus on animal care, welfare and well-being. For the River’s Edge Team last year, this included looking critically at all aspects of the animals’ lives and environments by utilizing animal welfare assessment tools, thorough top to bottom environmental assessments, and previous research from programs like the Elephant Welfare Initiative to find new innovative ways to continue improving. With multiple and unique viewpoints from caretakers, managers and team members from departments like animal health, nutrition, research and facilities management, new ideas to enhance the lives of the animals were plentiful!
The River’s Edge Team took pride in accomplishing many projects in these areas of focus with some of the smallest animals under our care, such as the dwarf mongoose, to some of the largest animals, like Asian elephants. Collaborative efforts across Zoo departments allowed us to make physical improvements to both indoor and outdoor habitats for many of the species found in River’s Edge.
One major improvement for the dwarf mongoose was the addition of an indoor training wall to allow more access for our keepers to utilize operant conditioning training techniques to encourage the animals to participate in their own health care. For example, getting regular voluntary weights on each individual mongoose is important for their overall health care. However, this behavior can be more difficult to train in a social group setting when every mongoose wants to jump on the scale at once and participate! From daily health and wellness checks, like looking into an animal’s mouth, to more extensive behavioral conditioning, such as receiving vaccinations and participating in reproductive health exams, the River’s Edge keepers invest time in building relationships with all of the animals. Training with them has been an essential tool in encouraging the animals to be active participants in their own health care here at the Zoo.
Beyond training, the care team continues to expand the diverse enrichment program for all animals with a focus on eliciting natural behaviors. Some of these novel and durable enrichment items include a large scratching station that may be useful for a black rhino to satisfy an itch in addition to mud wallows that they use to improve their skincare. Large inflatable boat buoys have been offered to our elephant family which encourages important play behavior for both the younger and older elephants when they kick it, squash it, and toss it around their habitats. The bat-eared foxes and red river hogs have enjoyed changes to the substrate in their habitats like sand piles and the addition of large logs to challenge them to forage for insects.
Overall the enrichment and training programs are more robust, and the animal social groupings and their habitats are more dynamic. The River’s Edge Team is excited about the next evolution of the animal care programs in 2020! – Katie Pilgram-Kloppe, Zoological Manager of River’s Edge & Tori Boston, River's Edge Keeper