Groceries at the Zoo

Each week a zookeeper and a volunteer go grocery shopping. They are hunting for ingredients for over 150 recipes in the zoo kitchen diet binders. There are two kitchens at the zoo. One in the Kauthoffer building and the other in Zoo Lab. The kitchens are busy places. Every day meals are prepared for over 300 mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects.

The weekly shopping is done at Kroger, using a list of over 40 items ranging from a large handful of green beans, to 5 cases of greens. On the way back to the zoo they stop at Premium Pet Supply to get live fish for the tentacled snake. Great attention is paid to the quality of the food animals consume. For example, expired eggs are not allowed and dates on the cartons are carefully checked. All items fed must be of the finest quality.

Other ingredients come from local sources such as A.B. Hatchery and businesses as far away as New Jersey for the red panda’s bamboo. These suppliers specialize in food for certain animals. For example, Rodent Pro provides frozen rats, mice, chickens, rabbits, and more. Suppliers of insect food can provide mealworms, super mealworms, giant mealworms, wax worms, earth worms, red wigglers, fruit flies, and more. Suppliers are critical to animal care.  Mazuri Exotic Animal Products provides an insectivore diet (which is mixed with water to form a slurry) to feed our anteaters. Without it, someone would have to find about 30,000 ants each day for each anteater.

Diets range from ones with many ingredients like the small bird diet  – which has 12 ingredients, to the goat diet, which consists of one main ingredient this time of year – alfalfa-based grain.

Most animals eat once a day. Exceptions include most mammals, who eat twice a day, some reptiles will eat once a week, the tarantula gets two live crickets every Thursday, and the alligator doesn’t eat anything from October to May (in colder weather they reduce their energy needs). There can also be seasonal variety in diets for some animals. When an animals gains too much weight the diet changes. Diets also need to be adjusted for picky eaters. The red-rumped agouti will not eat cucumbers, squash, or radishes but love sweet potatoes. “You will sit there until you clean your plate” doesn’t work at the zoo.

In most cases animals are not fed live prey. The exceptions are animals that eat crickets, wax worms, earth worms, and fish. On Saturday the kookaburra gets the bird diet that includes 20 super worms. Very little of the food has to be cooked. Some diets do include hardboiled eggs though.

There is a wide variety of ways the animals are fed. In the rainforest, bird diets are placed in various locations so more than 40 birds do not compete for food. The tiger’s food is spread out so he has to hunt for it as he would in his natural habitat. In some cases like the mongoose where there are multiple animals, the food it spread out so all the animals get to eat.

It takes a team of keepers, volunteers, and junior zoo keepers to prepare all the diets. Animals have to be fed no matter what is happening. There are no days off. Thanks to all who make this happen.