Animal Diaries Archive
Friends in the Making
20 June 2008
As keepers we face many challenges every day. One of the most important and eventually rewarding is gaining the trust and respect from animals in our care. Although formal education and training is important, there is no substitute for experience. This is spending time and building up a bond with the animals. Once you learn characteristics and behaviours, you are able to recognise any changes and accurately evaluate and implement ways to improve health and wellbeing. As a new member of the exotics crew I have had the fulfilling task of bonding with our remarkable animals; all with their own unique personalities. Our camel, Teela, and the otters, Bonny and Maria, are pushovers – as long as you have some food or a few treats to give them.
Over at the Dingo enclosure, the residents are a little more reserved. After three months of watching me come and go, they are starting to greet me with wagging tails and a little bit of vocalising; their way of saying “G’Day!”
The European Red Foxes ‘Kit’ and ‘Roxy’ are another story. These two are very shy and timid, and who can blame them? Foxes have been continually hunted in Australia since their introduction in 1855. A lot of patience is required to even be in the same space as them, let alone offer them food or give them a pat. I started bonding with them by working in their enclosure, going about daily cleaning and not paying them too much attention. At first they were apprehensive so I began spending time sitting inside their den just to let them become accustomed to my presence. As they have become more tolerant of me, I am now able to sit with them and they have relaxed enough to accept food from me. I am hoping to gain enough trust to be able to hand feed and have them climb onto my shoulder during our demonstrations.
Bonding is a slow intricate process which takes a lot of time and has a delicate balance between just enough and going too far. It cannot be forced but is a gradual building of acceptance and trust. The rewards are boundless, and lead to a better understanding and knowledge of each animal’s individual characteristics, allowing us to provide them with better care and an enriched life.