Celebrating Hoof Care Month – Garden City Telegram

BY EMILY SEXSON

February is International Hoof Care Month. Hooved animals are called ungulates or hoofed mammals. Their hooves are the tips of the animal’s toes, reinforced with a thick layer of keratin. Keratin is the type of protein that makes up our hair and nails. Just as our nails and hair need trimming and grooming to stay healthy, ungulates need care for their ever-growing hooves.

While most people think of cows or horses when they hear the word hoof, ungulates come in all shapes and sizes. The smallest, the little mouse-deer, when mature is about the size of a rabbit. Larger species such as the hippopotamus weigh up to five tons.

Ungulates can be divided into two groups, odd toes and toes. Even-toed ungulates carry their weight evenly on two or four of their five toes. The other toes may be present but do not always serve a real purpose. Cattle, giraffes, camels, and pigs are all examples of even-toed ungulates. Odd-toed ungulates such as rhinos, tapirs, and horses carry their weight on an odd number of their five toes.

The Lee Richardson Zoo is home to many ungulates, odd and even toed, and each receives hoof care. Animal care staff monitor hoof health and will offer ‘pedicures’ to those in need, using specialist tools to safely trim or file hooves if necessary. If you’ve ever struggled to trim your pets’ nails at home, imagine the work it would take to get a one-ton black rhino to volunteer.

So how was it done? Throughout the zoo, staff use positive reinforcement to train animals in their care and during training sessions, giraffes and rhinos are asked to voluntarily put their feet up or kneel on a block of wood that allows keepers to see their entire hoof. Guardians reward appropriate behavior are rewarded with a favorite food item. These training sessions often require several staff members to work together to be successful.

In fact, for the giraffes in our care, while one staff member works downstairs on the hoof, another is upstairs on a ladder with a bucket of treats rewarding the animal. Through these sessions, staff can provide stress-free animal care and can do preventative care or even do x-rays if needed.

Hoof care is so important to our ungulate friends. In the wild, animals have natural ways of keeping their hooves healthy, traveling over rough terrain, often developing hard calluses on their feet. They can use their teeth or tap their feet to dislodge rocks or stuck objects. When animals have unresolved issues in the wild, they often become prey. At the zoo they don’t have to worry about predation, immobile, unmanaged or overgrown hooves can be very painful, lead to infection, arthritis or muscle problems, leading to difficulty eating , to move and reproduce.

We work hard to ensure that every animal in our care is healthy from head to toe! On your next visit to the zoo, be sure to visit the addax, camels, rhinos, Asian wild horse, giraffes, goral, karakul sheep, alpaca, bison, pronghorn, elk and banteng.

Check out their hooves; are they even or odd? Try walking on your tiptoes; how far and how long can you support all your weight on your toes alone?

The zoo is currently open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with the drive-thru portion available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Visit www. leerichardsonzoo. org for more information about the zoo.

Emily Sexson is a communications specialist at the Lee Richardson Zoo.

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