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Cellphone-like Technology Provides Insights into Giraffe Recovery

In addition to her daily care, zookeepers and veterinarians have been providing Goody, the Sacramento Zoo’s 18-year-old Reticulated Giraffe, treatments for arthritis and a chronic joint abnormality in her front left fetlock (ankle).

Goody, who was recently chosen as the Arthritis Foundation’s 2016 Jingle Bell Run Celebrity Honoree, has been wearing a specialized boot with a metal shoe support inside and a fetlock brace to help support her joints and the rotation of her foot caused by arthritis. In addition, she can now be seen intermittently sporting a custom anklet. This anklet, made by one of the zoo’s horticulturists who has a knack for sewing, includes a HOBO data logger, similar to an activity tracker people wear.

The Sacramento Zoo is employing science to better care for Goody and the other giraffes based information provided by the ankle monitors. The HOBO is a data logger with a three-axis accelerometer.

The accelerometer technology in this device shows when a giraffe is standing up versus lying down. It is the same technology utilized in smart phones that changes the view from portrait to landscape mode when you tilt your phone.

Goody’s sister, Skye, is also wearing an anklet. During data collection and analysis, Skye will be used as the baseline of “normal” to better compare Goody’s activity data. Zoo staff will then be able to track how Goody’s activity compares to Skye’s on a regular day, on a day Goody receives various treatments, when a boot adjustment is made, and so forth. Staff will also be able to track when and if their activity levels drop or increase depending upon the weather or other environmental changes.

Goody cannot verbally tell zoo staff when something makes her feel better, worse, or has no affect at all. Instead zookeepers and veterinarians continue to monitor how she walks or stands and whether or not she appears more comfortable or in more pain than previous days. By observing these, and other, behaviors staff can better understand Goody’s overall wellbeing. The HOBO data logger will record her activity and provide information to better understand the treatments that are helping Goody the most.

Along with helping Sacramento Zoo staff with Goody, the data collected from her and Skye will be added to other data logs. The Brookfield Zoo is already collecting information, using the same methods, to better understand the activity of their giraffes. All of that data in turn will be shared with other zoos to aide overall giraffe caregiving.

Featured photo by Tonja Candelaria; giraffe photo by April Johnson. A version of this article can be found on the Zoo Blog.

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About the author

April Mae Saenz Johnson

April Mae Saenz Johnson

On a daily basis, I see animals from all over the world in one special place: the Sacramento Zoo. I am happy to share inside info, fun facts and photographs of the zoo's animals, staff and events.

In my personal life, I enjoy the sleepy, gross and amazing moments of motherhood, time with my husband and our labradoodle, with a bit of traveling, yoga and volunteering on the Leadership Team for Social Media Club Sacramento.

I am embarking on a new adventure as co-founder of Aging UP, a nonprofit empowering youth with experience in foster care to successfully transition into adulthood.

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