Many families in America have had the opportunity to crate train a puppy. Crate training can be a pretty easy task, as puppies tend to enjoy a secure place while their parents are out of the house. At the Cincinnati Zoo there comes a time when many of our animals have to be crate trained… but rarely is it an animal as large and as powerful as a black rhino. That being said, teaching a rhino to crate train is not unlike puppy crate training, it is just on a MUCH larger scale.
We are fortunate, here at the Cincinnati Zoo, to have a wonderful keeper staff that cares about our animals and always has the animal’s best interest at heart. Immediately after finding out our black rhino,”Klyde,” was scheduled to move to the Sedgewick County Zoo for breeding, the Cincinnati Zoo staff started planning and preparing. They found a size appropriate crate and had our maintenance department bring it in and set it up so Klyde has access to it from his indoor holding area. Before they even allowed Klyde to lay eyes on it everyone got together and created a game plan for his introduction. We started by discussing Klyde’s personality, his daily needs, how the keepers wanted to see the first week go. Once we had that all laid out it was a matter of putting together a schedule that I, as a trainer, thought was appropriate for the animal and meeting the needs of the Zoo.
The first part of training is to figure out how quickly to progress. It’s very important to understand that nothing is planned 100% when it comes to training animals. You always have to be willing to adapt or change your plan as the animals change theirs. Step one is to keep things calm and allow Klyde to be desensitized on his terms. Klyde has three extra large stalls in his indoor holding area. The first stall is where he has access outside, which is now the entrance to his large rhino crate.
Day one we wanted things as normal as possible for Klyde. He had is primary keeper, Marjorie, who kept things calm, gave him his daily bath and moved him from stall to stall for cleaning, as normal. In the morning he was not allowed in the first stall but had a window to be able to see what was going on. Marge prepared his breakfast, left some browse (a favorite treat for Klyde) leading up to the crate and set it all up in his first stall so that as he ate he could see his crate.
As he was allowed access to the first stall he kept a wary eye on the crate but he mostly ignored it. Keepers did not allow him to fully enter in the crate the first two days. It is very important that he is not given an opportunity to have a negative experience. However, the second day, he actually went towards the crate and stuck his head in it, smelling it and just checking it out. By day three he was much more comfortable in his adjacent stall and was no longer jumpy. The desensitization process was right on track!!
By day four we were ready to allow Klyde more access and time to get used to the crate. The pole blocking his entrance was removed from the crate and his breakfast was moved right in front of the entrance to the crate. Further inside the crate we placed hay and some of his favorite treats along with some browse hanging around the entrance to entice him to eat near it, around it and inside of it. We wanted him to always pair the crate with positive experiences and feelings.
Check back for updates on Klyde’s progress. You can also follow me on Twitter @MeganKateF for more frequent updates. When you come to the Zoo you will be able to see his extra large crate, and you may even see one of his keepers feeding him treats from the yard side of the crate.