Orangutans Get Flu Vaccination

 (Pittsburgh) (December 2011)—Flu season is here! You may be surprised to learn that some of our primates at the Tropical Forest also receive flu injections. “Protecting our animals from disease is part of the great care that we provide for our animals,” says Dr. Ginger Takle, the Zoo’s newly promoted Director of Animal Health. “Great apes like gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees are more susceptible than other primates to the same flu that humans contact, so we vaccinate them every year when flu supplies are available.” 

But before the animals can receive their vaccination, a lot of work goes into preparing them. “Gaining their trust and cooperation is an important step before they will cooperate for a flu vaccination or any other type of medical procedure or enrichment,” says Michelle Farmerie, orangutan keeper. “None of us looks forward to an injection and the animals are no different.  We teach them to be willing participants which in turn alleviates stress for everyone involved.”

Training starts with repetition, talking to the animal, and rewards, like the animals favorite treat.  “All of our training is based on positive reinforcement,” says Ms. Farmerie. “We work with the animals to let them know that what they just did, like presenting an arm or hip, was good. It is important to gain the animals trust. Once they trust you, they are more willing to cooperate.”

Training is never forced. “If a certain animal doesn’t feel like working with us, that’s fine,” says Ms. Farmerie. “We stop and wait for another day or time when the animal might be more in the mood to cooperate.”


The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is open year round.  For directions, hours, tickets and group sales information, call 412 665-3640.  Visit the Zoo’s website at www.pittsburghzoo.org .  The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.  Look for the AZA logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you and a better future for all living things.  For more information visit www.aza.org .