Boris, our young reindeer, mastered his base training and was ready to move on to a more advanced reindeer game (see Reindeer Boris: Basic Training). Since he had done well so far, we decided it would be enriching and beneficial to introduce Boris to a halter so that he could walk with his keeper.
The first time Boris felt his halter slide over his long furry muzzle and up around his ears, he stood quietly for a few seconds, probably a little puzzled. Next, he tossed his head and rubbed his face on his keeper’s shirt, maybe trying to figure out what kind of large bug had landed on his muzzle and wrapped itself around his ears. Help! After a few reassuring words, and a short, gentle introduction to this new creature called a “halter,” Boris began to relax and learn.
Next, it was time to train Boris to walk calmly while on the lead. We were fortunate that Keeper Brad Wymer had some experience with training horses and was willing to help. He generously offered some pointers on halter training and tested them with Boris. After a few trial runs, Boris became calm and relaxed as he walked beside Brad and did very well with reindeer keepers Matt Price and Pamela Weber as well. Although his attention span was a little short, as long as we kept training sessions brief and positive, Boris responded well. Once again, he was proving himself to be a star pupil.
The reindeer is the only deer that can be domesticated and has been used by people in Lapland as long as 3,000 years ago. Even today, reindeer provide butter, meat, cheese, clothing, and transportation for the Lapp people. Its antlers and bones are used to make tools and utensils, and the tough sinews in its legs are used to make thread. Reindeer have been the economic basis of the Lapp culture for centuries. Because of their popularity, reindeer are raised in many areas of the world outside of their native Arctic.
Knowing that reindeer have been domesticated, we felt comfortable introducing Boris to a halter. That said, reindeer also deserve some healthy respect. Sharp antlers can be dangerous. Because of this, we understood that Boris’s time on a halter would be sweet but short lived. He has already grown into quite the handsome teenager, and will no doubt be an impressive adult.
Sigh….They grow so fast, don’t they? Did time speed up in December? The weeks have flown by, and the Christmas holiday season arrived quickly. It had become the season of holiday treats, Santa Claus, and, of course, reindeer. What a perfect opportunity to introduce our Zoo visitors to Boris! His first public debut was during a Sunrise Surprise Stroll. Lucky visitors got a chance to meet our handsome young reindeer and hear his amazing story firsthand. Since then, Boris has been the star of several Strolls, and if you’re lucky you may see him practicing his stride on exhibit while his reindeer family looks on.
Raising Boris has been a team effort with great results. He has been a joy to raise and rewarding to work with. At just over three months of age, Boris was weaned on December 25, 2010. Christmas Day, of course! After all, he had work to do!
Kim Weibel is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.