New Training yard a game changer for camel care

28 April 2023

Werribee Open Range Zoo camel, Saffron, is testing the dynamics of traditional animal health care.

A new training yard built within the zoo’s expansive Savannah habitat, means it’s the zoo keepers and veterinarians, rather than the animals, who are required to step inside.

The zoo’s five Camels, including 21-year-old Saffron, are asked to approach the perimeter of the yard to participate in training sessions, while retaining choice and control to leave at any time.

Savannah Keeper Sophie Gray said Saffron is an ideal training candidate.

“Saffron is an ageing camel and has lameness in her front left leg, which impacts her mobility. We’re hoping that by empowering her to participate in her own healthcare, we can get to the bottom of the issue,” Ms Gray said.

“Saffron is also the most patient of our five camels. She is quite food motivated, which makes her more willing to participate in training.”

Zoo keepers are using the new facility to train behaviours including body condition checks, receiving a needle for blood draws and a stethoscope for heart monitoring. Historically, these would have required containment or anaesthetic but now take place as the camels choose.

To positively reinforce behaviour for all participants, each success is rewarded with delicious lucerne, building an enduring and trusting bond between the keepers and animals.

“By training our animals to participate in their own healthcare, we are able to provide the most positive, least intrusive care,” Ms Gray said.

It’s hoped that all of the zoo’s camels will choose to participate in the preventative healthcare training, as well other species who share the Savannah.

Werribee Open Range Zoo’s 45-hectare mixed-species Savannah is home to some of the world’s most iconic animals, including camels, Plains zebra, giraffe, ostrich and Southern white rhino. Visitors can experience the wonder of African animals by boarding the Zoo’s safari bus experience: a free, 40-minute tour, included in the price of admission.