Following weeks of training, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s giraffe population now accepts pedicures. Zoo personnel have worked closely with the skittish animals to participate in their own hoof care.
According to a recent press release, giraffes are notoriously hesitant to stand still while being touched and handled by people. To perform proper hoof trimming, the giraffe not only has to remain motionless but also individually offer up each foot for the zookeeper to trim.
Proper foot care does not hurt the animal at all, but it is a new experience that can lead giraffes to resist if not properly acclimated to the procedure.
“Foot health is vitally important for a species that has to balance a lot of weight on extra-long legs. The ability to perform maintenance with the animal’s cooperation allows the team to do regular checkups without the risks associated with anesthesia,” Cincinnati Zoo director Thane Maynard says in a release.
Without proper trimming, the giraffe’s nails can become overgrown and result in serious injury such as broken bones, torn ligaments, and intense pain while walking.
The giraffe team, led by keeper Teresa Truesdale, has taught all five giraffes, including two young males, to follow safe trimming procedure through a series of “baby steps.”
For example, the giraffes were given a series of small behaviors, such as touching a target with its nose, before the keeper ever touched a foot. Then other behaviors, like lifting a foot and placing it on the block, are subsequently added as time continues. Each behavior was reinforced until it was learned.
Truesdale says the zoo’s priority has always been to ensure that each giraffe is active and comfortable, which proper foot care seeks to accomplish.
Zookeepers and related personnel were taught proper hoof care by world-renowned farrier Steve Foxworth in 2019. The zoo continues to attend his workshops and reach out to him for guidance on safe foot care.
In 2018, giraffes were listed as a “vulnerable” species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's "Red List". This fact only served to reinforce the zoo’s goal to maintain the comfort and safety of its animals.
Watch giraffes practice their hoof care in this Facebook video: