Weigh-to-go! Zookeepers record animals' vital statistics in annual weigh-in at Drusillas Park

  • Find out what treats and tricks zookeepers use to coax animals onto the scales

Like many of us stepping on the scales in the new year, keepers at a Sussex zoo have been asking their animals to hop on the scales for their annual new year weigh in!

From monkeys and millipedes, sloths and snails, to anteaters and armadillos - all the exotic species that reside at Drusillas Park were tempted onto the scales to record how everyone is doing.

Head Keeper Gemma Romains said: “Just like lots of you, the new year feels like a fresh start here at the zoo, and it’s a nice time to get all our records updated for the year ahead.

"We do weigh many of our animals weekly anyway as part of their care programmes, and we carefully and constantly monitor diet, exercise, and enrichment for them all year round. A big weigh in like this helps us to plan our diet sheets to keep everyone healthy and happy.”

Gemma continued: “We have lots of very small animals here at the Park, who don’t weigh very much at all, so even the slightest change in what we feed them can have an impact on maintaining a healthy weight, so we are always reviewing our diet plans for each of our 800 animals.”

Gretal the armadillo looks relaxed on the scales Credit: Drusillas Park Zoo

Getting such a variety of animals to stand on the scales is no easy task.

Keepers have to set up many different types of equipment, and employ several tactics to get everyone’s measurements in a calm way.

Some are easier than others such as Gretal the armadillo, Coco the miniature donkey, and baby capybara Satsuma, who, with the promise of food would happily sit on the scales all day.

Keepers carry out regular training sessions with many of their animals to ensure that any health check ups can be stress-free, such as training them to settle in travel crates, or offer their arms for vaccinations.

Serval cat Nwela, who arrived at the Park in 2020, was hand-reared and previously clicker trained.

The team at Drusillas have continued this since she arrived and were able to easily encourage her onto the weighing scales using commands she already knew; asking her to move into position and ‘boop’ a tennis ball in return for the clicker being sounded and a food reward.

Gemma continued: “Building up trust with animals like Nwela takes a lot of time and commitment and I feel privileged to now have a really trusting relationship with her.

"It doesn’t just make our lives easier as keepers when we need to do health checks, it provides enrichment, and removes any surprises or stress for our animals if they ever do need treatment or a visit to the vets.”