The medical management program of the giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) at Smithsonian National Zoological Park, as with other species, is heavily based on preventive medicine; a key component of this program is the feasibility of performing a number of medical procedures under positive reinforcement training.
The first step in this program is the establishment of training priorities. Veterinarians discuss medical priorities and work with the keeper staff in order to develop a chronogram with training objectives. Then, the keepers will work on specific goals at times determined by their work schedule; once the animal follows specific cues the veterinary staff (veterinarians and veterinary technicians) is integrated into the routine training. It is not until one objective has been fully achieved that the staff starts to train the panda in another procedure.
Procedures that have been trained and maintained using positive reinforcement are:
- Annual vaccination (canine distemper virus and killed rabies vaccine)
- Indirect blood pressure measurements
- Blood samples (complete blood counts, chemistry panel, serology, and serum banking)
- Thoracic radiographs
- Genital exam (vaginal exam/vaginal swabs and testicular measurements)
- Abdominal ultrasound for gestation monitoring in the female
- Intramuscular anesthesia injection
- Topical eye-drops