How can this training help elephants?
Spickler: Although we look for anything that might be ‘off’ health-wise during our daily husbandry training sessions, this could be an invaluable diagnostic tool for seeing issues that lie under the surface. In the long term, it helps us get ahead of geriatric issues that our elephants may have as they get older.
If we are able to perfect the radiograph technique with Swarna, there is great potential to train our other elephants to voluntarily participate as well. Beyond the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, aging elephants in zoos across the country inevitably will be challenged with geriatric issues. We would love to share our training plans, facility modifications and radiograph techniques with other zoos to benefit their herds. Sharing information about diseases and treatment options is beneficial for the population in human care as a whole and contributes to our mission of saving species.
How does it make you feel that you helped Swarna accomplish this training?
Riley: I am so incredibly proud of Swarna for successfully participating in radiograph training. Much of it comes from knowing she trusts me to introduce new situations and be by her side as she faces these challenges head on.
Spickler: I am newer to the Swarna team. For me, it was truly the first time I felt like she trusted me. She participated the entire time, even with lots of stimuli around her. Being able to see our hard work in put into practice made me proud of what all three of us were able to accomplish together.
This story appears in the March 2019 issue of National Zoo News. See elephant care and training in action at the elephant keeper talks at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily. Learn more about animal enrichment and training at the Zoo here.