In the past nine months, several milestones have come and went for our youngest giraffe, Ketara! His caretakers has watched him grow from 6-feet tall and around 150 pounds, to over 7-feet tall and nearly 550 pounds!
Whether he’s running and playing with his big sister, Julu, or learning how to socialize with our older giraffes and ostrich, Sadie, every moment with Ketara has brought our team joy and pride. Most recently, Ketara has begun to eat solid food! This particular milestone was quite exciting to witness and significant because we could begin the process of integrating Ketara into our training program. Since that first bite of solid food, Ketara’s training has been an on-going part of our week. He’s even begun making appearances at the giraffe-feeding platform, where our guests can meet him up-close!
The Hoofstock care team began attempting to signal Ketara down to the giraffe-feeding platform as soon as the weather started warming up this spring. However, the current height and angle of the platform made it difficult for him to reach, so we were challenged to find a solution. After consulting with the Zoo’s Curator of Behavior and Enrichment, Kim Leser, we were able to come up with a unique tool for this purpose – a simple pan glued to the end of a long stick. The length of the stick allowed our team to bridge the gap to Ketara, while the pan served as a bowl for solid food.
When we first introduced this invention to him inside the giraffe barn, Ketara was leary. However, it didn’t take long for his curiosity to take over. In fact, by the end of the week, he was nibbling on the food inside the pan. This unfamiliar invention soon became a recognizable object that we could take anywhere in the area and Ketara would follow, expecting treats. That simple tool allowed us to bring Ketara down to the giraffe-feeding platform for the first time in March, and he has returned back nearly every day since.
Although Ketara has become a daily visitor at the giraffe-feeding platform, he has yet to interact with Zoo guests. For now, he’s continuing to learn simple behaviors to participate. These behaviors include patiently waiting between bites of food and using his tongue to pick up the browse (leaves). During the giraffe feeding sessions, guests may also see, or hear, Ketara’s caretakers as they train these behaviors. You may hear the keepers blow a short whistle just before offering him food. This sound of the whistle strengthens his association with food and allows his caretakers to communicate to Ketara that he successfully completed the behavior requested of him. Guests may also witness the caretakers utilizing a tennis ball on the end of stick. This simple target provides Ketara with an achievable goal – touching his nose to the target. Once completed, Ketara will hear a soft whistle and receive a treat as positive reinforcement. This training tactic allows Ketara’s caretakers to teach him behaviors that will assist in his daily healthcare as he continues to grow older.
Ketara has learned a lot of new behaviors since spring! We invite guests to come the Zoo any day, weather permitting, for an opportunity to feed Ketara’s family and see him up close as he continues to train with his caretakers. Maybe you’ll even hear a Ketara story, or two, during your visit!
– Brian Frank, lead Hoofstock caretaker