Training Antelope to Cooperate with Veterinary Procedures

T. Grandin, N. Irlbeck, and M. Phillips

Proceedings of the 30th International Congress of the International Society for Applied Ethology August 14-17, 1996
Guelph, Ontario, Canada

Traditional methods of manual restraint or immobilization of antelopes with pharmaceuticals result in both behavioral and physiological sings of stress. Nyala and bongo antelope at the Denver Zoological Garden have been successfully trained to cooperate with veterinary procedures. Highly palatable treats which were not a part of the animal's diet were used to entice the animals to enter a plywood box equipped with remote controlled vertical slide gates on each end. After the bongo were trained, very low cortisol levels near baseline were obtained. For three animals, the levels were 6, 8.5, and 4.5 ng/ml after they had stood in the box for 20 minutes. These crate conditioned bongos had much lower cortisol levels than those reported in the literature for restained deer or cattle (values for manually restrained and deer darted with ketamine, 45.3 ng/ml and 55.6 ng/ml, respectively; domestic cattle restrained in squeeze chutes, 25 to 63 ng/ml). The cortisol levels in crate conditioned bongo were at almost the baseline reported for cattle (2 to 9 ng/ml) and bighorn sheep (5 ng/ml). Creatine phosphokinase (CPK) levels for four bongos averaged 71 I.U. in trained animals and 288 I.U. in immobilized animals. Comparisons of crate conditioned glucose levels to glucose levels obtained from the bongos' medical records indicated that crate conditioned animals were also much lower than values reported in the International Species Inventory System. These values have probably been obtained in immobilized or manually restrained animals. ISIS average values for bongo are:

Since antelope are a prey species, great care was taken to avoid triggering a massive flight reaction. These animals are likely to panic if they are suddenly confronted with novelty. The first step was to slowly habituate the animals to the box by placing treats in it. The most critical step was careful desensitization to the sound of the sliding doors. On the first day the door was moved only 2 cm. Over a period of two and one-half months, the animals were trained to tolerate being locked in the box. It then took another month to habituate them to having their hind leg accessed through a hole in the box for blood sampling. There was a critical point where food treats were switched from motivating the animals to enter the box to rewarding them for standing still. For blood testing or injections, they were trained to tolerate increasingly hard pinches. Antelope are sensitive to small changes in their surroundings; therefore, each change in the procedure must be done slowly.

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