Why are you training Remi for ultrasounds?
The only way that we can prove that Remi is pregnant is through an ultrasound. The ultrasounds could prove that she is pregnant if we see a fetus. If we do not see a fetus, it does not necessarily mean that she is not pregnant. Our challenge is figuring out how we can train Remi to position her body in such a way that gives our veterinarians a clear view of her uterus.
What does the training entail?
Sloth bears are very intelligent and eagerly participate in husbandry training sessions. Remi, in particular, enthusiastically interacts with us and picks up behaviors quickly.
Through our routine husbandry training sessions, she is used to us touching her paws and other body parts while she is awake. In addition to training her to sit, stand or lay down on cue, we also needed to ensure she was comfortable with an ultrasound probe touching her belly and ultrasound jelly.
Luckily, Remi is a very fast learner, and it only took about a week to train each behavior. We use positive reinforcement training at the Zoo, which means that the animals have the opportunity to participate in training sessions or walk away. If they do the behavior asked of them, they receive a favorite food as a reward. Coconuts are one of Remi’s favorite treats, so we reward her with diluted coconut water every time she participates in an ultrasound. She laps it up! She also receives a heap of praise from keepers for her good behavior, and she seems to enjoy all of the attention.
Has the ultrasound revealed anything?
Although we’ve conducted a few ultrasounds now, we have not seen a fetus. In fact, we haven’t even seen her uterus. Since we cannot go into the enclosure with Remi, the trick is to train her to position her body in such a way that the veterinarians can safely place the ultrasound probe through a portal in the training chute. We have tried several positions—sitting on a stool, laying against the mesh and sitting upright—but the vets have not been able to detect anything. It may also be that she is not pregnant, and therefore her uterus is not growing. However, we continue to conduct bi-weekly ultrasounds with Remi and practice with a fake probe during the weeks in between to keep her behaviors sharp. She has an excellent memory and does them with ease.