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How to convince two camels that walking into a trailer can be a good thing!

Han Solo checking out the trailer

Often when we have visitors to Zoology, people are most excited about meeting our two camels, Han Solo and Chewbacca.  These two have very big personalities and represent the beginning of Zoology Foundation.  Both camels have giant personalities that match their 1700 pound bodies and both very much love to act as the ZoFo mascots, greeting and interacting with tour participants, receiving treats and posing for selfies!

When not entertaining the public, both camels participate in almost daily training, covering the basics like halter training, leading, and targeting.  Recently, we have introduced the very essential skill of trailer loading. 

Because Colorado often has the danger of wildfires for more than half the year, it is absolutely critical that we have the ability to move all our animals off the property. All our inside animals can be relatively easily be loaded into a vehicle for transport but our outside animals require their cooperation and participation to accomplish safe transport.  To this end, the outside animals are trained to move into “evacuation” areas using treats as positive rewards.  They move into these areas daily so that it is just part of their everyday life and not a big deal.  Doing this creates a routine that they all are familiar with, which minimizes stress.  

The camels have their very own evacuation area and they are happy to move in there and receive their favorite camel grain as a reward.  Most of our haltering and target training happens in this area and they can patiently be in there for a few hours. 

Walking willing into a large stock trailer is another story however.  They have a natural and very strong instinct not to approach a trailer.  From any animal’s point of view, doing just so is going against everything their instincts tell them they should do. Trailers present many challenges for animals; they are somewhat enclosed and cave-like, inside darker than outside, mostly made of metal, which can be hot or cold to the touch and probably not very inviting in its aroma.  The ramp and flooring are very different than anything they have ever experienced, and can feel unstable.  Even the noises any trailer can make can be frightening. 

To help both camels want to enter a trailer, we have begun as simply as just moving a large gooseneck trailer into their pasture to get them used to its presence. That in itself was enough to unsettle both of them! After a week, we began introducing changes incrementally, first just providing their main diet of hay on the ramp of the trailer.  Once they both were comfortable with that, we moved the hay to the top of the low ramp, just inside the trailer.  Again, once they were ok with that change, we moved the hay deeper inside the trailer.  This is where our project progress became much slower.  At this point, the camels have to put at least their front feet on the ramp to reach their hay.  It has taken several weeks for them to feel confident doing this.  Just in this last week we have seen them repeatedly approach the trailer and walk their front feet up to the top of the ramp with relative consistency.  So now that they are ready for us to push their beloved hay deeper into the trailer, our goal for now is to have their two front feet in the trailer and their back feet actually on the ramp. 

We aren’t in a hurry with this project, getting impatient at any point would ruin any confidence they have gained and also, as camels never forget, it would damage their trust in us.  We believe that positive rewards and experiences is the only way to accomplish this and so far, it is working well. 

We hope to never have to evacuate our ZoFo residents for any reason but we believe and hope that all this preparation will make the process successful and safe not only for the animals but the ZoFo staff as well.  

So we are focused on the long-game and we’ll periodically post updates on Facebook and Instagram!

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