About Author: Karla Michelson

Posts by Karla Michelson


Meet Our New Warthogs

Meet Stuart, a southern warthog!

Meet Stuart, a southern warthog!

Rolling and rooting in mud wallows makes for happy warthogs, and this is one of the features you might see while passing the new Mammal Marsh exhibit during an Africa Tram Safari at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The two warthogs that now reside in this beautiful exhibit are a male and female named Stuart and Orkima. Stuart, a southern warthog, was born Valentine’s Day 2012 and hand-raised at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida. He was driven across country and arrived at the Safari Park’s hospital quarantine facility at 10 months of age. Very friendly and personable, he quickly became one of our favorites to take care of at the hospital.

Stuart had been trained by his previous keepers to do several behaviors such as sit, stay steady, and touch a target. We started reinforcing these behaviors while in quarantine to maintain a working relationship that is essential to our animal management practices. Make no mistake: warthogs can be unpredictable and dangerous. The trust and familiarity that is established between the animal and keeper, through consistent and constant training sessions, help reduce this threat. Soon, Stuart became one of our Harter Veterinary Medical Center ambassadors, ever ready to show off his trained behaviors to special tour guests. Who wouldn’t love to see a warthog sit and stay while chomping down on his favorite treats?

Keeper Jenna works with Stuart on some behaviors.

Keeper Jenna builds trust through a training session with Stuart.

After Stuart’s quarantine period passed, he was joined at the Medical Center by a young female named Orkima. She was born at the San Diego Zoo in July of 2011 and was chosen to be Stuart’s new companion. They were soon fast friends, sharing the same “pigloo” (a large dog house in the shape of an igloo) at night for sleeping. Since Orkima was parent-reared, she was not as trusting with human contact as Stuart was. We started trying to gain her confidence by working with Stuart in the same area, careful to move slowly, tossing treats to her, enticing her to come closer and feel comfortable with us. Soon, she was taking treats from our hand and was as eager to work for us as Stuart was.

It was now time to transition the warthogs to the keepers that would be taking care of them in their new exhibit. Every day, their new keepers came to the Medical Center to build this new relationship through training sessions and maintaining the pens they were residing in. Transition complete, Stuart and Orkima were moved to their new exhibit this month and are happily making it their home. Come see them on your next Safari Park visit!

Karla Michelson is a senior hospital keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Meet Ted, Our New Tiger.


Meet Ted, Our New Tiger

Ted stands for a treat during his quarantine period.

Ted stands for a treat from Karla during his quarantine period.

The Harter Veterinary Medical Center at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is also the quarantine site for many animals that come into our collection. We currently have an eight-year-old male Sumatran tiger, affectionately called Teddy, who has been with us for the mandatory 30-day quarantine period. During this period we collect samples, run tests, and do physical exams to ensure the health of incoming animals.

Teddy came to us from the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoological Garden, located in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He weighs about 240 pounds (109 kilograms) and has a striking coat of black stripes on a deep orange background, unique to the tiger. He is a very calm and affectionate animal. The keepers at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo have done a wonderful job with Teddy’s training, and he arrived with many learned behaviors that will make our ability to work with him in a new setting much easier.

Some of these behaviors are to sit, lay, roll-over, stand, shift from pen to pen, hold position, and show his right or left paw. The keepers who will be taking care of him in his new home at the Safari Park’s tiger exhibit have been visiting him daily to form the bond and relationship so essential in working with animals of his caliber. He will be joining his new family soon and may be visible on exhibit sometime this month.

Karla Michelson is a senior hospital keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.