Pretoria - Ever wondered who decides what the animals at the Pretoria Zoo eat? How much does an elephant eat? What is healthy for the lemurs and who makes the food for the gorillas?
The zoo has more than 423 species that have to be fed, with different foods at different times on different days.
The Pretoria News recently received a complaint that the animals are not fed properly and that they are “extremely rationed”.
Other concerns were that the elephants have colic, and questions were raised about the animals’ diets.
The Pretoria News team visited the zoo’s chief veterinarian, Dr Ian Espie, to see how the animals’ diets are worked out and how they are fed.
Espie said the zoo has a computer programme with each animal’s diet sheet and their specific requirements worked out.
Each species in each enclosure has its own daily and weekly diet plan, with necessary supplements and enrichment foods, and notes on their requirements.
Vitamin supplements are also added to their meals.
The dietary sheets specify what time and day the animals are fed and how much food they are given, and if the animal is pregnant its diet is adapted to their needs.
“The animals eat well. They have five-star food here,” Espie said.
There are international guidelines for determining the animals’ dietary plans and zoos often seek advice from each other.
Espie said experience in the field is also necessary when drawing up a dietary plan.
The sheets are worked out for the animals in each enclosure and not for an individual unless it has specific requirements.
If that is the case, the animals are fed separately in their night rooms.
When the vet or the animal’s curator notices that an animal has gained or lost too much weight, their diet is adapted.
This happened with the leopard a month ago.
“We noticed a year or two ago that the leopard was gaining too much weight, and we adapted its diet,” Espie said.
“Recently it looked as if it was losing weight and we changed the diet again.”
Instead of being fed on alternate days, the leopard is now fed every day – chicken on one day and red meat on the bone on alternate days.
As part of its environmental enrichment the leopard’s food is suspended on a winch so it must work hard to get it.
“Food is often used as environmental enrichment to keep the animals’ bodies and minds busy,” Angeliné Schwan, the zoo’s communications officer, said.
She said meat is catapulted into the lion and tiger enclosures so they do not always get their food in the same place.
The gorillas’ food is scattered all over their enclosure to encourage them to forage, as they would in nature.
The zoo has three tigers, two of which are slightly overweight.
“When people then see the one who is in a good condition, they compare it to the overweight ones and think it is malnourished, which is not the case,” Espie said.
The lions and tigers, unlike the leopard, are fed on alternate days.
“In the wild they often go a week or two without food and they get enough food here so they do not have to eat every day,” Schwan said.
The koala bears are the most fussy eaters and only eat certain types of eucalyptus leaves. The zoo now grows its own eucalyptus trees to cater to them.
“There is no guesswork involved in their diets,” said Schwan. “It is all very well researched and monitored.”
The zoo has its own kitchen and butchery with 11 staff members who start with food preparations at 6.30am every day.
Each enclosure’s food is put in clearly marked containers by the kitchen staff and the curators then make sure the animals receive their daily meals.
Schwan reassured the Pretoria News that budget cuts would never influence the animals’ food requirements.
“If we did not feed the animals they would die and we’d have no more zoo,” she said.
There were large coldrooms to keep the food fresh and fresh fruit and vegetables were delivered daily.
Schwan said they have a big problem with visitors feeding the animals.
“People are not doing the animals a service by feeding them. They are on strict diets and can get ill if they are fed by visitors,” she said.
Animals can also get ill if they contract human diseases from the visitors. This is called zoonosis.
“Primates can get tuberculosis from humans and vice versa,” she said.
The elephants were fed lucerne, teff (a species of grass) and vegetables on a daily basis and on some days apples, bread loaves and strelitzia leaves.
Espie said Charlie, the elephant bull, periodically suffers from colic which causes him discomfort.
He is then given banana leaves and antispasmodic drugs to ease the colic.
“One of our cows also experiences discomfort when she eats too many apples,” Espie said, adding the elephants’ curator knows his animals very well and acts immediately when something is wrong.
When our team visited yesterday, the elephants were fed lucerne and vegetables, and the white rhinos were eating lucerne.
The black rhino, Mbani, loves apples and they are also used as part of his conditioning training.
Conditioning training is done with most animals to prepare them for vet check-ups and routine weigh-ins.
Espie and Schwan agreed that the animals must never be fed chocolate. “The lemurs will eat Smarties if you give it to them but people must realise that nothing is good for them unless they are able to get it in the wild,” Schwann said.
Avocados are also toxic for birds and they are never included on their dietary sheets. Vultures are always given fresh meat, never rotten meat.
The zoo lost one of its gorillas to diabetes at the age of 35 but because it was not born at the zoo it could not be determined how it got sick.
The snakes in the reptile park are not fed every day and in winter they are only fed every two weeks since they are in partial hibernation.
The zoo breeds its own rats and mice to feed the snakes and as we watched, the two puff adders were each given a dead mouse. The mouse is attached to a grab-stick and the snakes have to catch it off the stick. - Pretoria News