The Advantages Of Training Antelope To Cooperate With Veterinary
Antelope being trained to voluntarily enter the box to receive
Each step of the training procedure was done slowly and carefully
to avoid a dangerous flight reaction. Both nyala and bongo will orient
their heads and ears towards a novel sound, such as movement of the crate
doors. If the sound continues, the animal will either tolerate it or bolt
and attempt to flee. Habituating the animals to the sound of the sliding
doors is the most critical part of the training. Great care was taken to
avoid triggering a flight reaction. The reason why horns are often broken
off when animals are forcefully manually restrained is due to a massive
flight reaction due to fear.
- On the first day of training to door movement, movement of the
door was stopped the instant the animals oriented towards it. Each day
the doors were moved a bit more until the animals completely tolerated
them and they could be pulled open quickly.
It is extremely important to avoid triggering a massive fear
flight reaction which would cause an animal to hit a wall or fence.
Research has shown that if an animal's first experience with a new place
is either painful or frightening, it will refuse to enter it again
(Miller, 1960). Practical experience with cattle and sheep has shown that
when the animals are first put in a new corral or squeeze chute, painful
procedures should be avoided. If pain or high levels of fear are
associated with the first encounter with the new facility, it will be
extremely difficult to get the animals to enter in the future (Grandin,
1993, 1996; Hutson, 1993). This is due to a strong conditioned fear
response. Extinguishing this fear response can be very difficult, because
fear conditioning is a very primitive learned response that takes place
is a subcortical neural pathway (LeDoux, 1994). A neural connection is
made which bypasses the cortex (thinking part of the brain). For example,
if an animal was scared by a big red truck and it bolted and hit the
fence, it will get an instant fear reaction when it sees a big red truck
in the future. It is much easier to train an animal to tolerate a big red
truck by slowly and gradually introducing them to one than to attempt to
unlearn a fear response after the animal has been badly frightened by one.
- Prey specie animals such as nyala or bongo are extremely wary of
novelty because in the wild, a sudden novel event is often a sign of
danger. Sudden novel events are very stressful (Danzer and Mormede, 1983;
Moberg and Wood, 1982); however, animals can be trained to tolerate
novelty if it is introduced slowly and gradually. Introduction of novelty
must be done more slowly and gradually in a wild prey species animal,
such as bongo because they have a greater flight response than a domestic
ruminant, such as cattle.
- The people training the nyala and the bongo also had a good
understanding of the concept of flight zone
(Hediger, 1968; Grandin,
1987). The flight zone is the animal's personal space. The size of the
flight zone is affected by both genetics and previous experience. It
varies from none in a completely tame animal to many meters in a wild
one. When a person enters the flight zone, the animal will move away.
Both nyala and bongo will face a person who is outside their flight zone.
If the flight zone is penetrated in a confined space, such as a barn or
stall where there is insufficient space for the animal to move away, it
may panic and crash into a wall or attack a person. This is due to fear.
- The nyala at the Denver Zoological Gardens were tame enough so
that the handler could enter the stall with the animals in it. For the
bongo, the handler had to remain outside the stall until an animal was
restrained inside the crate.
- To condition the animals to walk through the crate, treats were
placed on the floor. The next step was to train the animals to enter the
crate with the forward door closed. The first few times the rear door is
closed, the animal is immediately released through the front door. The
next step is habituating the animals to stand restrained in the crate
with both doors closed for five to ten minutes. During this time they
were continuously fed treats. It is important to get the animals fully
patterned to standing and eating quietly in the carte before any attempt
is made to touch them. Since the bongo is more vigilant and wary of novel
sights and sounds than the nyala, extra time was required to habituate
the bongo to opening the access holes in the crate.
- After an animal has learned that a particular situation is safe,
it will tolerate some aversive stimuli. Miller (1960) found that rats
will tolerate gradually increasing shocks to get a food reward. A
relatively long training period was used to get the nyala and bongo into
an established routine of being locked in the crate to receive treats
before any manipulation of the leg was attempted. Experiments with cattle
have shown that the animals are reluctant to change an established
routine (Grandin et al., 1994).
Successful blood sampling of an antelope.
- The next step was to habituate the animals to touching and
manipulation of the rear leg. For the nyala, firm touches were used, and
for the bongo, the initial touches were very light. Gradually, the
animals were habituated to increasingly hard pinches to simulate blood
sampling from the recurrent tarsal vein. The middle door was used to make
the crate smaller so that the leg of a small animal would be near the
bleeding hole. There was a critical point during habituation to
manipulation of the leg where the treats were changed from being an
enticement to being a reward for standing still. The handler training the
animal had to differentiate between a dangerous flight fear response and
learned avoidance behavior such as twitching or kicking. The animals were
taught that they would be given a treat after they stood still. A large
flight fear response is most likely to occur during the early phases of
habituation to the crate and door movement. There were great individual
differences between the animals. Voice commands were used with the bongo
after they were habituated to standing in the crate. "Good girl" or "good
boy" were spoken when they were rewarded with a treat, and a sharp "no"
was spoken when they misbehaved. The word "steady" was said in a soothing
voice when they appeared to get nervous. After the animals were
accustomed to hard pinches, blood samples could be drawn.