When it’s treat time at the Fort Worth Zoo, hungry hippos are zoned in on watermelon.
While the ladies – there are four of them – open wide, staff can check their teeth. It's a deal they've been working on, called operant conditioning.
Trainers induce a response and the animal gets a reward. The technique is used across the country on everything from giraffes to tigers. At this zoo, while not single every animal takes part, every species does.
“With the big cats we can have them present their paws so you can see their feet, you can do ear exams, eye exams,” said Senior Mammal Curator, Ron Surratt.
Surratt said years ago, health checks and antibiotic injections required tranquilizers.
“But now we can teach the animals to come up, present themselves close enough to us behind a barrier and then they can be hand injected so it eliminates the need to dart them,” he said.
When a one-ton rhino strolled inside for a blood draw, two crew members tackled the job by ground, while another handed her a snack above.
Surratt said it's a payoff that makes those necessary check-ups easier, so everyone can get back to work and play.