How to Train Your Rhino

This post written by Tim Junker & Jessica Sigle

A rhino opens his mouth for keepers to take a look inside.

The Houston Zoo’s three rhinos came to us straight out of Africa without knowing any trained behaviors or even their own names.  It became critically important to get these animals to at least come over to us when called, otherwise no training could proceed.  It didn’t take long for us to find that alfalfa was their favorite treat.  Many other captive rhinos enjoy more trainer-friendly chopped produce items such as apples, carrots, or sweet potatoes, but ours just wanted the hay.  Once they associated us with alfalfa, we quickly made friends.

Some of the most important behaviors that these animals needed to learn were simple body positions.  I’m not talking “downward facing dog” or the “lotus pose,” but instead “come here,” “lean in,” and “back up.”  These uncomplicated maneuvers offer keepers the ability to examine the rhinos from any angle upon request and treat any potential wounds.  This is very important for animals that spend some of their free time sparring with each other using their sharp horns.

A keeper engaging in target training.

A behavior that we find to be of great use is to “target.”  This is used by many animals all over the zoo to bring them to a certain location on cue.  Often a target is a ball on a stick or some variation of that, which the animal is trained to touch a part of their body to (usually their nose) in exchange for a reward.  With this behavior trained, the rhinos can be moved anywhere in the exhibit or holding area that the keepers can reach a target to.

Keepers drawing blood from a rhino’s ear.

With the basics now trained, we are able to move on with other, more complex behaviors; such as blood draws.  For many people this is the moment they dread most in a doctor’s visit.  For the rhinos, a slight ear twitch is usually the only reaction that they have.  Twice a week, we collect blood from the two female rhinos and twice a month for the male.  Our rhinos are still young, so we collect the blood to monitor the progesterone levels of the females so we will know when they begin to cycle and become receptive to breeding.  Blood is collected from their large ear veins into glass viles and examined in the zoo’s vet clinic or sent off to an outside lab for more specialized tests.  If any of the rhinos appear to be ill, we can easily collect blood to check for infection.

Another behavior currently in training is to get the rhinos to accept a toenail trim.  In general, rhinos need little in the way of foot work, but there may be occasions down the road which will require us to address an immediate concern.  We hope that once trained, the rhinos will lift up each of their feet and place them on a block so that the nails can be filed and the bottom of the foot can be examined.  With some of the basic  behaviors already trained, the rhinos will likely be very accepting of these more complex behaviors.

The relationships that we build during  these  many training sessions makes day-to-day care of the animals far simpler. The benefits gained from cooperative animals makes for a virtually stress free environment.  On September 22 and 23, the Houston Zoo is celebrating World Rhino Days.  We invite you to come join us to learn more about how we train and care for these amazing animals and what you can do to help these endangered species.



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This morning, we humanely euthanized our male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam. Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and our veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years.

The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.

Read more about Kan B, and the love his keepers had for him on our blog: www.houstonzoo.org/blog/mourning-loss-geriatric-jaguar-kan-balam/
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This morning, we humanely euthanized our male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam.  Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and our veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years. 
 
The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.

Read more about Kan B, and the love his keepers had for him on our blog: https://www.houstonzoo.org/blog/mourning-loss-geriatric-jaguar-kan-balam/

 

Comment on Facebook

Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur; happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr purr purr #RIP #bigbangtheory

I know he lived a lot longer due to the excellent care he got at the Zoo.

Aww. When interning in the carnivore dept he was one of my faves. So smart! Ashley remember when Angie was teaching him to do the moonwalk after Michael Jackson passed?

So sorry for the loss of this beautiful creature. Kan Balam.

Is this the one that had the limp?

Thank you Houston Zoo for taking such good care of him and all the animals! I've been going to this zoo since I was little bitty. I always enjoy it.

RIP Kan Balam. You have given the visitors so much pleasure just watching you over these years. You were taken care of by top notch professional handlers, etc.

So sorry for your loss. He was a brilliant cat and he is at peace now and free.

So sorry they had to go through this, a decision that is emotional and difficult, and necessary.

Thank you to you and your staff for the years of quality care given this magnificant creature.

Sending my love to Kan Balam's keepers ❤️ This is the hardest part of our jobs 💔

We just saw Kan Balam on Monday😔.... he will be missed❤️

I am so sorry for your loss, each of these animals are precious ....

This was my daughters favorite critter at the Zoo. We always went to say hello to him before anyone else whenever we went. When she was 7 years old we sent a post out to out neighborhood on Halloween saying Paisley was asking for pocket change donations in lieu of candy for Halloween and all amounts would be donated to Kan thru the zoo. She raised over $40 in coins! I still have the letter from the zoo thanking her for her donation. He was a sweet boy and will be missed. 😔

Hugs to all of you keepers that took special care of Kan Balam.

Awe, I’m so sad to hear his quality of life was declining. But, I’m happy to know he had a long and wonderful life thanks to the wonderful teams at the Houston Zoo. He was a beautiful cat.

I'm so sorry for your loss. Thanks for taking such great care of him so he was able to live a long life. My thoughts are with his keepers and all who adored him. <3

Heartfelt condolences to the veterinary and keeper staff. Thank you for taking care of him

Katie Rose Buckley-Jones I won’t ever forget the time you asked him to bring something and he ripped off a piece of cardboard and tried to hand it to you ❤️ thank you for introducing me to him. Sending you guys many hugs

The Houston Zoo staff has lost several animals this year and I am sure each one is so hard to go through.

Thank you for providing him with a caring and enriched life. So sorry for your loss!

My thoughts of sympathy are with you all. I can't even imagine the sadness you feel today.

So sorry to read this. It is always a hard decision. RIP and run free sweet boy.

I’m so sorry for your loss. He was a beautiful cat.

So sad. Native Houstonian. He was one of my favorites.

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Social Media Guy to Sea Lion Keeper: Can you send me a pic of you working with the sea lions in this chilly weather?

Sea Lion Keeper: Sure... (sends picture next to sea lion statue)

SMG: I'm still using this.
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Social Media Guy to Sea Lion Keeper: Can you send me a pic of you working with the sea lions in this chilly weather?

Sea Lion Keeper: Sure... (sends picture next to sea lion statue)

SMG: Im still using this.

 

Comment on Facebook

Are there some zoo animals that enjoy this weather?

SMG is another reason why Houston Zoo is the best Zoo!

Happy New Year “sea lion keeper “ 💖💖

More snow for TJ and Max ❤️ lucky them!

Are we positive that’s the statue rather than it really just being that cold? 😛

That’s my best friend Sophie for ya! 😂

Brrrrr

Omg the Zoo is so awesome 😂😂😂 Alana Berry

Omg be warm sweetoe

Haha!! Good one!

Sweetie 💞

Ashley Jucker 😂

Mike DePope

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We've heard of stalagmites but is stalagmice a thing? ... See MoreSee Less

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Weve heard of stalagmites but is stalagmice a thing?

 

Comment on Facebook

Ok, it took me a minute to get this. I was literally zooming in to try to find the mouse. 🤦🏻‍♀️🙄😂

Cindy Christina Angela Ramirez see I told y’all! Lol

Andrew Kaufmann Look its Richard Jr! 😂

Wow ... good photo shot ... show the world that you need to protect your pipe ... if not, freezing water will expand the pipe and crack the pipe !!!

“Baby it’s cold outside!”

My gutters had glaciers in them!

I fell for the mouse thing too..

That's nothing! Talk to keepers from the northern states or Canada!

i was honestly looking for a mouse lol

Wow,that is so neat!

Annecia Wesley but where is the ice bacon? Lol

Johnnie R. Summerlin, cool, see the "stalagm ice"?

Two words. Pipe insulation.

That’s awesome!

Ana Rivers Smith cool!

Cortez

Pauline Ervin

Denise Daigre

Ashley Nguyen

Vicente Gonzalez

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