Boris Learns Reindeer Games

Posted at 11:00 am November 17, 2010 by Kim Weibel

See Kim’s previous post, Reindeer Baby Boris Grows Up.

The next big step in Boris’ social introduction was encouraging him to live in the main exhibit with the herd. To help make his move successful, we set up a “creep” for Boris. A creep is a small, safe pen, similar to a “howdy pen,” where a young animal can go to escape the herd and also meet his keepers for bottles.

To train young animals like Boris to come to their caretakers for bottle feedings, we use a method called clicker training. Once a young animal is nursing reliably, we begin using a clicker, clicking it once before offering the bottle and once again while the animal is actively nursing from it. By repeating this at each feeding, the animal learns to associate the sound of the clicker with bottle feedings/food. Training a young animal to respond to the clicker allows him to live with his own kind, where he learns important social skills and herd etiquette while still receiving bottle feedings from his keepers.

Boris enjoys a meal in his creep.

Boris quickly learned that clicker equals dinner and bounded across the exhibit to meet his keeper at the creep. After draining his bottle, and bumping his keeper for more, he’d saunter out of the creep, back onto the exhibit, looking back a few times just to make sure he hadn’t missed any milk.

Just like his wild cousins, one of the things Boris learned about reindeer life was the importance of moving with the herd. On the wild tundra, the large number of herd members help keep a baby safe from predators. At the San Diego Zoo, Boris learned about life with the reindeer herd in his new home.

Part of a keeper’s day includes servicing the exhibit. In order to clean and distribute fresh food, water, and enrichment items, the reindeer keeper moves the herd into holding pens at the top of the exhibit.

Bath time for Boris.

Boris learned to move into the reindeer barns with the herd when his keeper calls and charges out ahead of them when released. He does this with great enthusiasm, proving that he is an official experienced member of the group. Boris joins in the reindeer game of “What’s new out here today?”, bounding about exploring the hillsides looking for browse treats. Boris is especially fond of water and can be seen splashing around in the pond making a muddy mess out of both the pond and himself.

Kim Weibel is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

Listen to Boris as he calls to his keeper.

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25 Responses to “Boris Learns Reindeer Games”

  1. lu says:

    How cute. Seems he is learning fast, I will be at the zoo next week and hope to see Boris. Thank you for the update, you really keep us up to date.


  2. Grace says:

    Thanks for loading the sound of Boris! It sure is interesting for me to listen for the very first time while trying to picture him in my head!

  3. Michelle from Buffalo, NY says:

    Oh my gosh how cute is that sound clip!! It sounds like a grown man going “oh…oh….oh…” 🙂 Thank you so much for posting that. Love both pics too! Someday I’m going to get out there….

  4. Sue Martz says:

    Thanks for the update on Baby Boris, How cute!! What a face! He looks to be growing by leaps and bounds. I can only imagine the “nudge” he gives for more milk. He looks like a typical boy with the mud bath and play. How often is he fed per day and how much?

  5. Karen says:

    Thank you for letting everyone hear Boris. He is so cute. They also have clicker training for dogs also. That is so neat.

  6. Pamda says:

    Love the sound clip of Boris. All of this time I thought it was Santa saying “Ho Ho Ho” Now I think it is his reindeer!

  7. Bobbie Wood says:

    Boris sounds like a ‘hooman’ pretending to be a duck 🙂 What a treat it will be to see him at the SDZ on my next visit! Can I bring a clicker? (just kidding!) Maybe he will hear the camera and come close for a close-up 🙂

  8. Seiko says:

    Baby Boris looks so cute! Thank you for the update. I really want to see him, maybe this weekend!

  9. Susan(UK) says:

    Well, even though Boris is growing up, he certainly hasn’t lost any of his cuteness. What a handsome reindeer he will be.

  10. JoGGer says:

    boris’s ‘voice’ broken early or what ??? Is there any video of boris about or any chance of cam stardom Im sure he’ll be very ‘deer’ to all of us….

  11. Vonna - North Carolina says:

    Such ‘big’ sounds coming from such a tiny guy! And, I agree with Pamda……maybe it’s always been the reindeer and not Santa. Have this mental picture of Boris dressed as Santa and letting out his ‘ho, ho, ho’ call.

    He is just too cute and it must be a real pleasure to watch him bound out of the pen each day to see what new things he can find.

    Thanks for the great update and sound clip!

  12. Patti E. says:

    Ha! Can picture in my mind Boris looking back to make sure he didn’t miss any milk!! HA! HA! Thanks for the mental picture!

  13. JoGGer says:

    I noticed the reindeers as stated in the blogs are next to kalluk and co. Are animals grouped geographically at san diego then ? Id expect grizzly bears or something in the next area..sort of animals grouped by species…thats how I seme to rmemeber zoos being organised but it is a long time since I went to one !!

    Moderator’s note: We do have some geographic areas. The reindeer and polar bears live next to each other in an area called Polar Bear Plunge. It also has Arctic foxes and diving ducks.

  14. Lisa in Colorado says:

    Thank you for the sound clip! Interesting! He is so adorable.

  15. kim weibel says:

    Hello Everyone,

    Thanks for all the comments on Boris and his vocals. He is quite the character isn’t he?

    #4 Sue,
    Boris is currently being offered 24oz (700mls) of formula three times daily, for a total of 68 oz (2,100mls) a day! He has quite the appetite, doesn’t he? 🙂

  16. Grace says:

    I just witnessed a sibling fight over toys! Tatqiq was VERY quick to move on top of the green burlap/tarp before Kalluk got his paws on it. Sadly, I went away for a few minutes to read up on SDZ blog, and now Kalluk is in possession of the toy with Tatqiq cowering in the corner of the brown dirt pile. 🙁

    I wonder if Tatqiq’s dominance over Kalluk has waned in the recent months; it seems that Kalluk can always, and easily, win any fights if he choose to. (I love the siblings though!)

  17. Margaret says:

    Thanks, Kim. It sounds like Boris is coming along well. I look forward to hearing more about his life in the herd as he continues to grow up with his family.

  18. Sue Martz says:

    Kim, thanks for answering on how much Boris eats. Wow, a little over 2 liters of formula a day. Does he require more as he grows or will that be supplemented with food that the other reindeer eat? He is growing so quickly. You have your hands full with him. Thanks for taking such good care of him!

  19. cindy in KC says:

    I find it so amazing to watch that a big ol boy like Kalluk can take his big ol paw, with those huge nails, and gently ever so gently, scratch his leg or foot pad or something. One would think he might do some serious damage with those things,but haven’t seen it yet.

  20. cindy in KC says:

    4:00 pst– seeing one ‘brown’ bear laying high upon his rock. Saw him there this am too

    at 6am pst. Does he prefer that to the sand?

  21. Chari Mercier says:

    Hi! HAPPY THANKSGIVING to everyone and the polar bears! Have a nice holiday weekend with family and friends!

    Chari Mercier 🙂

    St. Pete, FL

  22. Chari Mercier says:

    Hi! Just saw Tatqiq and Kalluk on the polar bear cam. One of them was by the window, and the other one was on the rock shifting positions to lay back down for another snooze. Alot of people were at the other side of the window just enjoying watching these 2 bears that are nice and white for once.

    Have a good weekend!

    Chari Mercier 🙂

    St. Pete, FL

  23. Grace says:

    Enjoying a close-up shot of Kalluk napping. I learned a very useful fact about polar bears yesterday while reading up on the plight of this critically threatened species: The male polar bears’ necks are wider than their heads. So tracking collars can only be fitted on females. I’ll be using this fact when I look at the Polar Cam from now on!

    Moderator’s note: It’s true! Hope that helps you identify Kalluk more easily.

  24. Shirley Ann says:

    Noon time San Diego time, there is a white (brown) polar bear having a great sleep – a great time must of been had rolling in the dirt.

  25. Grace says:

    It is 11:50 AM, PST. I just saw Tatqiq picked up a large, fresh, green palm frond and laid it down. She then proceeded to lie down on her back on top of it, and rolled in it on her back. It seems that someone is trying to relieve an itch on a hard-to-reach area??? Kind of hilarious to watch her doing it repeatedly.