Animals open mouths wide with pride at Werribee Open Range Zoo

11 November 2020

Some animals at Werribee Open Range Zoo have learned how to voluntarily open their mouths to a keeper’s cue, allowing for stress-free oral care.

Fascinating new vision shows hippopotamuses, lions and a cheetah displaying their impressive teeth while engaging in training sessions with their keepers.

The ‘open-mouth’ behaviour enables keepers and veterinarians to easily monitor the oral health of the Zoo’s animals and provides an opportunity for teeth brushing, cleaning and the administering of any medical care.

Werribee Open Range Zoo Animal Training Coordinator Kelly Hobbs said the stress-free approach was a result of months of ongoing training, positive reinforcement and trust building between keepers and the animals.

“This trained behavior allows us to get a really good look at the animals’ oral and body health,” said Ms Hobbs. “It’s done in a way that’s safe for both keepers and animals, and builds a really nice trusting relationship between them.

“Our animals understand that if they present their mouths, they’ll get their favourite food afterwards.”

The open-mouth training is just one of the many methods keepers at Werribee Open Range Zoo are implementing to provide the most positive, least intrusive care for its animals.

Ms Hobbs said the importance of empowering animals to participate in their own healthcare through training is integral to the long-term health and wellbeing of the Zoo’s animals.

“Empowerment can look like a number of things,” said Ms Hobbs. “It can look like an animal choosing not to participate in the training, which is perfectly fine, or that an animal actively seeks out interactions with us. It can also mean decreased stress and better long-term healthcare outcomes.”

Zoos Victoria has partnered with Dental Health Services Victoria since 2017 to raise awareness about the importance of oral healthcare, with Werribee Zoo’s hippos, lions and cheetah’s being the perfect ambassadors.

Werribee Open Range Zoo re-opened to visitors on 29 October under the latest changing of coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions by the Victorian Government. Daily visitor numbers are capped and all tickets must be pre-purchased online. For more information, visit: