If you are a regular visitor to the San Diego Zoo, you probably have noticed that our young Bactrian camel, Tuya, is no longer in the camel exhibit. A few weeks ago she made her journey to a zoo in the Midwest. In my last post I spoke about her pre-shipment physical (see post Training Camel Tuya) . For most of it she was stellar!
I haltered her up and walked her into the chute. She was calm since we had been working on this behavior for a few weeks now. The veterinarian checked her legs, feet, teeth, general body condition, eyes, ears, and then we had to draw blood. Since it is winter, Tuya has her full winter coat. Finding a vein is difficult enough with a moving camel, but add in four inches of thick, curly hair and it is practically impossible. We shaved her neck in the area where the blood would be drawn and she did great. It took a few tries, but we were able to draw a blood sample.
About a week later it was time to shift her into the trailer for movement to our shipping area. I had also been working on getting her to go into the trailer voluntarily. It is always easier for all involved, camel and keeper, to train behaviors and have the animals do things on their own. A 500-pound animal is not easy to convince otherwise. Once again I started slowly and gave her the chance to investigate the trailer, sniff it, get nervous and run away, and then come right back. I used her “target,” a small pool buoy on a stick, to give her something to concentrate on and reinforced her when she touched it while close to the trailer. We worked our way into the trailer, and she was somewhat confident. It was new, but I was there to comfort her.
On the move day she walked up to the trailer well with her halter on but would not go in. Sometimes this happens; the animals can sense something is different. They can feel the urgency. Luckily, the trailer has many small doors we can open, so we opened one at the back to show her a little light. Once that door was open she walked right in. It is always so rewarding for the animal to be calm and to have everything go smoothly.
Tuya was transported to our shipping area and then left a few days later. She arrived safely and will start her new life with a reason to have that thick winter coat. Working with her was a great experience and another addition to the never-ending repertoire of zoo keeping adventures.
Laura Weiner is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.