Published Dec. 7, 2020
By Erika Allen, Senior Marine Mammal Trainer
It has been just over a year since little walruses Aku and Ginger joined our marine mammal family at the Indianapolis Zoo, but a lot has changed in that short amount of time!
When they first arrived last November it took a bit of time for them to acclimate to their new home, but it didn’t take long for them to establish their favorite sleeping spots, favorite toys and even favorite playtime activities with their trainers! We have learned that Ginger loves to play with the stream of the hose, letting it spray her body or drinking from it. She also loves to munch on ice cubes when given as a treat. Aku on the other hand is much more interested in his toys. Interacting with these enrichment devices enables him to practice important natural behaviors such as sucking, spitting, flipper manipulation, climbing and carrying. Aku also likes personal attention from his trainers including a good rubdown. Of course, both walruses love foraging around their exhibit for clams and fish.
Although COVID closed the Zoo to guests for several months earlier this year, our teams ensured all of our animals continued to receive excellent care. During this time, we were able to spend lots of time on basic behavioral training which will be the foundation of everything the walrus learn as they grow older.
As we have learned more about their personalities and built deeper relationships with them both, we have been able to increase their quality of care through cooperative training. Both walruses have learned important behaviors this year that will help them cooperate in their own health care. For example, Ginger and Aku both allow us to measure their tusks, brush their teeth and place protective caps on their teeth if needed. We can also take body measurements and weigh them to track their growth. They are continuing to work on learning how to sit still for a diagnostic procedure such as an ultrasound or an x-ray, so the vets can check out the inside of their body as well as the outside to make sure they are staying healthy.
In addition to these important medical behaviors, the walruses are both having tons of fun learning behaviors that provide physical and mental stimulation and demonstrate their natural abilities to our Zoo guests. These include splashing, spitting, moving their flippers, vocalizing, and retrieving objects in their habitat. The process of learning these behaviors is engaging and enriching, helping to deepen the bonds between animal and human.
We are so excited for what lays ahead in future years for this dynamic duo and to see what our team can accomplish when it comes to learning about walrus and their conservation. In the meantime, come visit to see all they have learned in the past year and watch them enjoying the cooler weather this holiday season.
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