It’s not every day you see a wild cougar let someone touch their tail. But that’s what a very large cougar named Kalamalka lets a zookeeper in British Columbia do. The cougar named Kalamalka is being trained to voluntarily offer his tail to zookeeper Dannielle at the BC Wildlife Park in exchange for food. But whatever for?
It’s for medical care and allows veterinarians to draw blood from the big cat’s tail! This way they can avoid having to sedate the cougar. And, through this training, the process is much easier.
BC Wildlife Park explains on Facebook:
“With household cats, blood is withdrawn from their jugular vein in the neck, or a vein in their leg; however, that isn’t possible with a cougar unless they’re sedated. This voluntary behavior was trained over the course of 1 year. Now, our Animal Health Technologist, Paige, is able to insert a needle into Kalamalka’s tail.”
“Due to the small tail vein, the position of his tail in his training area, and the thick amount of fur he has, his health care team will shave a small portion of his tail fur and use a Doppler ultrasound to aid in locating a suitable vein in his tail. This will allow his health care team to easily locate a vein and efficiently withdraw the required amount.
“Exposing the animal to each item that will be used during their medical procedure increases the animal’s familiarity with the medical equipment. This process is integral both to the success of training and the animal’s trust with their keeper.”
Dannielle has been training Kalamalka and another cougar, Zoe, for over a year. It’s amazing to see the trust she has built with the wild cats. In the video, she is walking a staff member through the process.
From the looks of things, the process is not for the feint of heart, even with a cage separating the cats from people. Throughout the video you can hear Kalamalka growling. But BC Wildlife Park writes that Kalamalka is more annoyed than upset by the session:
“Cougars often vocalize for many different reasons. Kalamalka definitely vocalizes when he’s uncomfortable; however, growls and hisses are minor for him. If he was more serious it would be a spit and a striking out with his paw or he would simply leave. All animals always have the choice to leave a training session. Often when his keeper begins a new behaviour or change something, he starts off a bit uncomfortable but he trusts Zookeeper Dannielle enough to stay, eventually becoming comfortable with it.”
It’s amazing to watch how Kalamalka responds to the training. And in case you are wondering what the touch pole is used for, the park officials explain that an animal touches their nose to the tip of the pole and receives a reward. The training pole helps animal care teams coax animals into different parts of their enclosure.