Injection training is also of enormous importance for many of the animals we look after. This type of training uses positive reinforcement. Animals can leave at any time, but if they choose to participate, they will be rewarded with their favorite food. Injection training begins with animals learning to present a part of their body to the keepers. For little gorilla Moke, it was his shoulder. We touched his shoulder with a finger, then a sealed syringe, and finally a blunt needle. To receive a reward, Moke just had to hold still. Repeated training sessions like this get the animals used to holding still for injections.
When animals can comfortably, calmly, and voluntarily receive injectable medication, vaccines, or anesthesia, it creates a less stressful experience not only for the animal but also for pet owners and veterinarians. Are you or someone you know afraid of needles? A nurse can take the time to walk you through the process to calm you down, and may even give you a lollipop when it’s all over. The same principle applies to training animals for injections. However, pet owners and veterinarians rely more on the trust they have in an animal than on an animal’s ability to understand an explanation of what is happening.
Many drugs prescribed to animals at the Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute are designed to be taken orally. This can look very different depending on the species. Take reptiles, for example. Most reptiles don’t chew and some species don’t eat every day. When Murphy the Komodo dragon needs to take a pill, it can be shoved into a piece of chicken, his favorite food that he swallows easily.
Liquid drugs can also be injected into frozen and thawed mice that are fed to reptiles, ravens, and other carnivores. What animal could do without a delicious mouse treatment even if it contained medication? It may sound gross, but rest assured that it is an extremely reliable way to treat some of the animals in the zoo. The same technique can be used for small mammals and birds, but with different foods. Mealworms, waxworms, and insects can be injected with medication and then quickly devoured by these smaller animals.