Our keepers really are ‘pawesome’.

Sometime ago the decision had to be taken to anaesthetise 10 year old Kordofan Giraffe Eloise for some extensive foot treatments.

Eloise’s hoof was growing off to the side, giving her issues walking. This can have added serious implications on a giraffe’s ankle, knee and shoulder, resulting in lameness if left without attention.

Anaesthetising a giraffe is always tricky and comes with a massive amount of risk. Anaesthetics make the patients weak, wobbly and uncoordinated - as they drift off to sleep a giraffe loses control of how (or the speed) at which they lay down, potentially falling awkwardly. As they begin to come round following the procedure they remain disoriented and weak, they do not understand that the weakness will pass, they can panic and struggle to get to their feet, still under the influence of the anaesthetic they become tired very quickly, exhausted and stressed with potential for serious damage to themselves. This was the case with Eloise who seriously struggled to get to her feet following the anaesthetic and we worried she wasn’t going to make it.

The treatment addressed the issues present at the time, however, like our nails, giraffe hooves will continue to grow, meaning there was a good chance her hooves would need treating again in the not so distant future. No one wanted to risk putting Eloise through another anaesthetic given how close we came to losing her last time, but we also couldn’t leave her untreated, so we needed an alternative.

The goal was to make Eloise comfortable with having her hoof filed by hand whilst she is awake and standing up. First up, a special “hoof height” door was installed in the giraffe pen in our Africa building, including a “hoof step” .

Secondly, Africa keeper Erica has been working tirelessly with Eloise, using positive reinforcement training and voice commands like “STEP” and “FOOT” to train Eloise to pop her hoof onto the step. Erica then works with Eloise with an object that resembles a hoof file to get her used to having her hooves touched, working up to an abrasive file, building up usage and enabling Erica to file down Eloise’s hooves on a regular basis, keeping them in tip-top condition!