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About Author: Kim Weibel

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Reindeer Boris Steps Out

Boris is growing before our eyes!

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.

Boris takes Keeper Pamela for a walk.

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.

Boris meets some San Diego Zoo guests. Click on all images to view in larger format.

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.

22

Reindeer Boris Steps Out

Boris is growing before our eyes!

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.

Boris takes Keeper Pamela for a walk.

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.

Boris meets some San Diego Zoo guests. Click on all images to view in larger format.

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.

0

Reindeer Boris: Basic Training

Boris takes a bottle feeding from Lead Keeper Tammy Batson.

If you visit Wegeforth Bowl at the San Diego Zoo to see the animal show, you may be treated to watching a sea lion swim, a lynx pounce, or a serval cat leap. These amazing behaviors performed on cue are the result of the many hours of training put in by our dedicated animal behavior staff. Training is key to the success of our animal shows and presentations. Training is also instrumental in animal care and management. On a stroll through the Zoo, you might notice a keeper asking a lion to rub her side against a fence or asking an ape to present his hand or chest. Training is going on everywhere at the Zoo, with animals from great apes to meerkats. Not only can it make life on exhibit much easier for both the animal and its keeper, it is also enriching. Working with a baby animal allows us the unique opportunity to start training at an early and impressionable age. The behaviors young Boris, our newest reindeer, learns to display in his Zoo environment now will help us manage him as an adult reindeer. (See previous post, Boris Learns Reindeer Games.)

Training animals like Boris to become familiar with things like weighing platforms, crates, loading ramps, trainers, and hoof-trimming tools helps prepare them for routine care and management. To introduce Boris to some of these management practices, we began working on a few training basics. Foot and hoof care is occasionally necessary in adult hoofed animals. We wanted to teach Boris to be calm and quiet when having his feet handled, so we began by gently touching his legs and feet. When he was little, Boris made us laugh with his extreme reaction to any fly that might buzz around his legs. Poor Boris reacted to one single fly as if it were a swarm of 10,000, so we weren’t surprised when his first response to our touch was to stomp and snort, trying to escape our fingers. To him, our hands might as well have been a giant fly coming to get him. Aaack! Thankfully, with practice and gentle repetition, Boris learned to stand quietly and eventually even lifted his feet when his hooves were touched.

Another important part of animal care and health is monitoring body weight. To collect the reindeer’s weights, a large wooden platform was set up on top of a scale in the reindeer’s back area. When the adult reindeer walks onto the platform, the keeper can record each animal’s body weight without causing any stress to the animal. Boris had to learn to step up onto the weigh platform just like the adults. We encouraged him to step up onto the platform by using his bottle as the dangling carrot. On his first try, Boris stepped up onto the platform as if he’d done it a thousand times before. No problem for this little guy!

Some training days that were especially fun for Boris were also a comedic scene for us to witness. One day, when a trailer was available, we backed it up to the reindeer pens and opened the door so that Boris could walk in. He walked up and down the loading ramp and sniffed around exploring the big “new thing.” Boris showed no fear. He quickly made a game of the new thing and trotted up and down the ramp leading into the trailer as if he had claimed it as his new fort. He had conquered his first trailer session with ease.

Boris has proven to be a diligent and eager student. His training will be a continued and significant part of his life in our zoo. Although he still has much to learn, he has done very well with his sessions thus far, and we are very proud of him.

Kim Wiebel is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

12

Reindeer Boris: Basic Training

Boris takes a bottle feeding from Lead Keeper Tammy Batson.

If you visit Wegeforth Bowl at the San Diego Zoo to see the animal show, you may be treated to watching a sea lion swim, a lynx pounce, or a serval cat leap. These amazing behaviors performed on cue are the result of the many hours of training put in by our dedicated animal behavior staff. Training is key to the success of our animal shows and presentations. Training is also instrumental in animal care and management. On a stroll through the Zoo, you might notice a keeper asking a lion to rub her side against a fence or asking an ape to present his hand or chest. Training is going on everywhere at the Zoo, with animals from great apes to meerkats. Not only can it make life on exhibit much easier for both the animal and its keeper, it is also enriching. Working with a baby animal allows us the unique opportunity to start training at an early and impressionable age. The behaviors young Boris, our newest reindeer, learns to display in his Zoo environment now will help us manage him as an adult reindeer. (See previous post, Boris Learns Reindeer Games.)

Training animals like Boris to become familiar with things like weighing platforms, crates, loading ramps, trainers, and hoof-trimming tools helps prepare them for routine care and management. To introduce Boris to some of these management practices, we began working on a few training basics. Foot and hoof care is occasionally necessary in adult hoofed animals. We wanted to teach Boris to be calm and quiet when having his feet handled, so we began by gently touching his legs and feet. When he was little, Boris made us laugh with his extreme reaction to any fly that might buzz around his legs. Poor Boris reacted to one single fly as if it were a swarm of 10,000, so we weren’t surprised when his first response to our touch was to stomp and snort, trying to escape our fingers. To him, our hands might as well have been a giant fly coming to get him. Aaack! Thankfully, with practice and gentle repetition, Boris learned to stand quietly and eventually even lifted his feet when his hooves were touched.

Another important part of animal care and health is monitoring body weight. To collect the reindeer’s weights, a large wooden platform was set up on top of a scale in the reindeer’s back area. When the adult reindeer walks onto the platform, the keeper can record each animal’s body weight without causing any stress to the animal. Boris had to learn to step up onto the weigh platform just like the adults. We encouraged him to step up onto the platform by using his bottle as the dangling carrot. On his first try, Boris stepped up onto the platform as if he’d done it a thousand times before. No problem for this little guy!

Some training days that were especially fun for Boris were also a comedic scene for us to witness. One day, when a trailer was available, we backed it up to the reindeer pens and opened the door so that Boris could walk in. He walked up and down the loading ramp and sniffed around exploring the big “new thing.” Boris showed no fear. He quickly made a game of the new thing and trotted up and down the ramp leading into the trailer as if he had claimed it as his new fort. He had conquered his first trailer session with ease.

Boris has proven to be a diligent and eager student. His training will be a continued and significant part of his life in our zoo. Although he still has much to learn, he has done very well with his sessions thus far, and we are very proud of him.

Kim Wiebel is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

0

Boris Learns Reindeer Games

See Kim’s previous post, Reindeer Baby Boris Grows Up.

The next big step in Boris’ social introduction was encouraging him to live in the main exhibit with the herd. To help make his move successful, we set up a “creep” for Boris. A creep is a small, safe pen, similar to a “howdy pen,” where a young animal can go to escape the herd and also meet his keepers for bottles.

To train young animals like Boris to come to their caretakers for bottle feedings, we use a method called clicker training. Once a young animal is nursing reliably, we begin using a clicker, clicking it once before offering the bottle and once again while the animal is actively nursing from it. By repeating this at each feeding, the animal learns to associate the sound of the clicker with bottle feedings/food. Training a young animal to respond to the clicker allows him to live with his own kind, where he learns important social skills and herd etiquette while still receiving bottle feedings from his keepers.

Boris enjoys a meal in his creep.

Boris quickly learned that clicker equals dinner and bounded across the exhibit to meet his keeper at the creep. After draining his bottle, and bumping his keeper for more, he’d saunter out of the creep, back onto the exhibit, looking back a few times just to make sure he hadn’t missed any milk.

Just like his wild cousins, one of the things Boris learned about reindeer life was the importance of moving with the herd. On the wild tundra, the large number of herd members help keep a baby safe from predators. At the San Diego Zoo, Boris learned about life with the reindeer herd in his new home.
Part of a keeper’s day includes servicing the exhibit. In order to clean and distribute fresh food, water, and enrichment items, the reindeer keeper moves the herd into holding pens at the top of the exhibit.

Bath time for Boris.

Boris learned to move into the reindeer barns with the herd when his keeper calls and charges out ahead of them when released. He does this with great enthusiasm, proving that he is an official experienced member of the group. Boris joins in the reindeer game of “What’s new out here today?”, bounding about exploring the hillsides looking for browse treats. Boris is especially fond of water and can be seen splashing around in the pond making a muddy mess out of both the pond and himself.

Kim Weibel is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

Listen to Boris as he calls to his keeper.

[audio:http://www.sandiegozoo.org/animalbytes/sounds/reindeer.mp3]
27

Boris Learns Reindeer Games

See Kim’s previous post, Reindeer Baby Boris Grows Up.

The next big step in Boris’ social introduction was encouraging him to live in the main exhibit with the herd. To help make his move successful, we set up a “creep” for Boris. A creep is a small, safe pen, similar to a “howdy pen,” where a young animal can go to escape the herd and also meet his keepers for bottles.

To train young animals like Boris to come to their caretakers for bottle feedings, we use a method called clicker training. Once a young animal is nursing reliably, we begin using a clicker, clicking it once before offering the bottle and once again while the animal is actively nursing from it. By repeating this at each feeding, the animal learns to associate the sound of the clicker with bottle feedings/food. Training a young animal to respond to the clicker allows him to live with his own kind, where he learns important social skills and herd etiquette while still receiving bottle feedings from his keepers.

Boris enjoys a meal in his creep.

Boris quickly learned that clicker equals dinner and bounded across the exhibit to meet his keeper at the creep. After draining his bottle, and bumping his keeper for more, he’d saunter out of the creep, back onto the exhibit, looking back a few times just to make sure he hadn’t missed any milk.

Just like his wild cousins, one of the things Boris learned about reindeer life was the importance of moving with the herd. On the wild tundra, the large number of herd members help keep a baby safe from predators. At the San Diego Zoo, Boris learned about life with the reindeer herd in his new home.
Part of a keeper’s day includes servicing the exhibit. In order to clean and distribute fresh food, water, and enrichment items, the reindeer keeper moves the herd into holding pens at the top of the exhibit.

Bath time for Boris.

Boris learned to move into the reindeer barns with the herd when his keeper calls and charges out ahead of them when released. He does this with great enthusiasm, proving that he is an official experienced member of the group. Boris joins in the reindeer game of “What’s new out here today?”, bounding about exploring the hillsides looking for browse treats. Boris is especially fond of water and can be seen splashing around in the pond making a muddy mess out of both the pond and himself.

Kim Weibel is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

Listen to Boris as he calls to his keeper.

[audio:http://www.sandiegozoo.org/animalbytes/sounds/reindeer.mp3]
1

Reindeer Baby Boris Grows Up

Boris sniffs the camera.

See Kim’s previous post, Reindeer Baby Boris Comes Home.

As Boris grew older, physical changes in him became more and more obvious. He was getting taller and more muscular. His thick velvet coat was getting even more dense, and antler buds were beginning to grow on top of his fuzzy black head. Every once in awhile Boris would delicately balance on three legs in order to scratch an antler bud with his hoof, as if satisfying a little itch. He also began growing the thick patch of skin and hair that reindeer display under their throats. Boris was beginning to look more like a reindeer and less like a Holstein calf!

Boris with keeper Pamela Weber

Interestingly, reindeer and caribou are the only species of deer in which males, females, and even calves produce antlers (see post All about Antlers). Female reindeer and calves shed their antlers around March or April and start growing new antlers immediately after shedding the old ones. Male reindeer shed their antlers at the end of the winter season, after the rut, and grow them again around January or February. Inside the fur-covered nose of a reindeer are long nasal passages that warm the cold winter air before it reaches the animal’s lungs. A furry scarf or “dewlap” of skin and hair worn under their throats is really an inflatable pouch of skin that amplifies the roaring sound made during rutting season. Other vocalizations reindeer make are honks and bellows. We have heard Boris honk when he is waiting for a bottle and bellow when it isn’t coming quickly enough! Reindeer calves are born with teeth, and when they are just a few weeks old they begin sampling the solid food their mothers eat. In the wild tundra, reindeer dine on the leaves and branches of willows and graze on grasses and sedges. In the winter they use their well-adapted hooves to dig under the snow and ice to reach their favorite food of lichens, sometimes called “reindeer moss.”

Boris sports antler buds.

When Boris was about one week old, he began sampling the solid food that was set aside for him by his keepers. He favored the leaves from the acacia branches hung for him to sample and began picking up strands of hay to taste as well. Although most of it dribbled out of his mouth and onto the ground at first, he eventually learned to chew and swallow a bit of both. Mimicking the adult reindeer, he got better at it and was soon munching his hay and pellet like a pro. Thanks to a very healthy appetite, Boris was gaining about 5 pounds (2 kilograms) a week! He was quickly out-growing his howdy pen and was ready to graduate to the large exhibit. Kim Weibel is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Check back soon for Kim’s next post about Boris.

14

Reindeer Baby Boris Grows Up

Boris sniffs the camera.

See Kim’s previous post, Reindeer Baby Boris Comes Home.

As Boris grew older, physical changes in him became more and more obvious. He was getting taller and more muscular. His thick velvet coat was getting even more dense, and antler buds were beginning to grow on top of his fuzzy black head. Every once in awhile Boris would delicately balance on three legs in order to scratch an antler bud with his hoof, as if satisfying a little itch. He also began growing the thick patch of skin and hair that reindeer display under their throats. Boris was beginning to look more like a reindeer and less like a Holstein calf!

Boris with keeper Pamela Weber

Interestingly, reindeer and caribou are the only species of deer in which males, females, and even calves produce antlers (see post All about Antlers). Female reindeer and calves shed their antlers around March or April and start growing new antlers immediately after shedding the old ones. Male reindeer shed their antlers at the end of the winter season, after the rut, and grow them again around January or February.

Inside the fur-covered nose of a reindeer are long nasal passages that warm the cold winter air before it reaches the animal’s lungs. A furry scarf or “dewlap” of skin and hair worn under their throats is really an inflatable pouch of skin that amplifies the roaring sound made during rutting season. Other vocalizations reindeer make are honks and bellows. We have heard Boris honk when he is waiting for a bottle and bellow when it isn’t coming quickly enough!

Reindeer calves are born with teeth, and when they are just a few weeks old they begin sampling the solid food their mothers eat. In the wild tundra, reindeer dine on the leaves and branches of willows and graze on grasses and sedges. In the winter they use their well-adapted hooves to dig under the snow and ice to reach their favorite food of lichens, sometimes called “reindeer moss.”

Boris sports antler buds.

When Boris was about one week old, he began sampling the solid food that was set aside for him by his keepers. He favored the leaves from the acacia branches hung for him to sample and began picking up strands of hay to taste as well. Although most of it dribbled out of his mouth and onto the ground at first, he eventually learned to chew and swallow a bit of both. Mimicking the adult reindeer, he got better at it and was soon munching his hay and pellet like a pro.

Thanks to a very healthy appetite, Boris was gaining about 5 pounds (2 kilograms) a week! He was quickly out-growing his howdy pen and was ready to graduate to the large exhibit.

Kim Weibel is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Check back soon for Kim’s next post about Boris.

0

Reindeer Baby Comes Home

Boris and Kim

See Kim’s previous post, Reindeer Baby Boris.

Back home at the San Diego Zoo’s reindeer exhibit in Polar Bear Plunge, keepers set up a “howdy pen” where Boris could continue to gain coordination and strength. We use howdy pens to create a safe and secure place for our young animals to go to if needed. We also developed a daily routine for Boris. In the morning, Boris left his howdy pen and followed us into the exhibit. The reindeer exhibit at the Zoo is lushly planted, steep, and large—great housing for the adult reindeer to navigate but tough for little Boris. We noticed in the late afternoons, when things were quiet, the curious adult reindeer (mother included) made their way down the hill and into Boris’ pen to investigate, sniffing him and helping themselves to his food and water. These were the first signs that the herd was accepting Boris.

The reindeer exhibit is next to our polar bear management yard (dubbed Polar Bear Park). The two exhibits are separated by a fence that the animals can easily see through. The curious polar bears have a bird’s-eye view of the reindeer herd. To them, Boris might appear to be a small chocolate mousse (moose)! On Boris’s first day out on exhibit, the bears lined up against the fence, straining to check out the new resident and huffing at him each time he ventured close to the common fence. We were proud to see that Boris’s natural instinct of fear and flight was on track, and he bolted away each time a bear barked at him. Despite his good instincts, we felt it was important to provide extra protection for him and a little less temptation for the bears. A temporary cloth barrier was put up on the lower half of the fence between the two exhibits to minimize contact. Although they can still smell each other, activity between the two species has mellowed.

After a few days of exploration, Boris began to enjoy his visits to the large reindeer exhibit. Each day as we cleaned, Boris played joyfully, bouncing and spinning around the pines and tearing through mud puddles. Boris became more coordinated and gained confidence. Exhausted after his romps, he followed us back to his howdy pen for a well-deserved rest.

Kim Weibel is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Check back soon for Kim’s next post about Boris.

22

Reindeer Baby Boris Comes Home

Boris and Kim

See Kim’s previous post, Reindeer Baby Boris.

Back home at the San Diego Zoo’s reindeer exhibit in Polar Bear Plunge, keepers set up a “howdy pen” where Boris could continue to gain coordination and strength. We use howdy pens to create a safe and secure place for our young animals to go to if needed. We also developed a daily routine for Boris. In the morning, Boris left his howdy pen and followed us into the exhibit. The reindeer exhibit at the Zoo is lushly planted, steep, and large—great housing for the adult reindeer to navigate but tough for little Boris. We noticed in the late afternoons, when things were quiet, the curious adult reindeer (mother included) made their way down the hill and into Boris’ pen to investigate, sniffing him and helping themselves to his food and water. These were the first signs that the herd was accepting Boris.

The reindeer exhibit is next to our polar bear management yard (dubbed Polar Bear Park). The two exhibits are separated by a fence that the animals can easily see through. The curious polar bears have a bird’s-eye view of the reindeer herd. To them, Boris might appear to be a small chocolate mousse (moose)! On Boris’s first day out on exhibit, the bears lined up against the fence, straining to check out the new resident and huffing at him each time he ventured close to the common fence. We were proud to see that Boris’s natural instinct of fear and flight was on track, and he bolted away each time a bear barked at him. Despite his good instincts, we felt it was important to provide extra protection for him and a little less temptation for the bears. A temporary cloth barrier was put up on the lower half of the fence between the two exhibits to minimize contact. Although they can still smell each other, activity between the two species has mellowed.

After a few days of exploration, Boris began to enjoy his visits to the large reindeer exhibit. Each day as we cleaned, Boris played joyfully, bouncing and spinning around the pines and tearing through mud puddles. Boris became more coordinated and gained confidence. Exhausted after his romps, he followed us back to his howdy pen for a well-deserved rest.

Kim Weibel is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Check back soon for Kim’s next post about Boris.