Shombay, Reid Park Zoo's 7-year-old male lion, went into kidney failure almost two years ago and was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease. Thanks to a program training him to accept being poked with a sharp object, he is being treated successfully.
Dr. Alexis Moreno, Reid Park Zoo's veterinarian, says Shombay is on many of the medications a house cat would receive, but on a 450-pound lion scale. He is now trained to receive subcutaneous fluids twice a week — a form of dialysis — to treat his kidney disease.
Zookeeper Alec Young worked with Shombay, first to get him to lay next to the fence. A barrier is always between the lion and the zookeeper. Food was used as positive reinforcement.
Once Shombay would lay down voluntarily, Young got him used to being touched. He would say "touch" and then poke Shombay. If he accepted it well, he would be rewarded. This was done for several weeks.
Then the touch was done with an object that might replicate a needle and the same process was followed. When Shombay reacted negatively, Young would back off and wait a bit and then try again.
Once Shombay accepted the poke with a sharper object, the team followed the same process with the needle and now can give Shombay his fluids by needle.