Teaching young giraffe old tricks: Changing learned behaviors in a herd of captive giraffe

At Lion Country Safari (LCS) in Loxahatchee, FL, a sub-tropical climate and the adoption of unnatural behavior by the captive giraffe herd have collided to pose a threat to the health of the giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis). In recent years, a resilient parasite known as Haemonchus contortus has become prevalent in the pastures where the giraffe are housed and has developed resistance to many standard de-worming drugs. H. contortus feeds on the host's blood while residing in the abomasum of ruminants and severe infestations lead to anemia, "bottle jaw," and even death. The subtropical climate of south Florida provides a perfect combination of year-round moisture and heat for these parasites to thrive. The pairing of increased grazing behavior in the giraffe with the presence of H. contortus in the pasture has resulted in increased parasite loads in the giraffe. The giraffe have become so accustomed to grazing that each generation is learning this behavior from their elders and are often seen lying down and grazing throughout the day. The consequences of these learned behaviors pose the staff at LCS with a dual mission: stop the giraffe from grazing and control parasite levels. To address this problem, LCS adopted several new practices in the management of giraffe. These changes help to curb the giraffes' grazing habit, make the pastures less habitable for H. contortus and reactively deal with the ramifications of H. contortus infections.

Unlike their wild counterparts, captive giraffe are not subjected to pressure from predators or food restrictions. However, problems can surface as a result of their environment, as has been seen at LCS. As animal care professionals it is out duty to provide the best environment possible for the animals in our care and to promote naturalistic behaviors. This paper will discuss actions being taken both proactively and reactively to combat H. contortus in the giraffe collection at LCS and strategies to encourage natural behavior in our captive giraffe.

Last Updated
January 27, 2021
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1.24 MB