Commissary at Oakland Zoo – the one for the animals, I mean…
by | June 26th, 2014

DSC_0026The daytime diet prep usually takes place in the morning so we have plenty of time pay attention to their details. It consists of the produce diets, meat diets and bird diets. The produce diets are a personal favorite because of how wonderfully colorful they look once done. Some are simple-consisting of only a few ingredients like grapes, apples and lettuce while others are complicated, requiring 9 different types of fruits and vegetables or more. For some of our smaller animals like the coatimundis and macaws individual pieces of their produce must be weighed making for a rather time consuming diet. The Vervet monkeys have a complicated social hierarchy. For this reason we must be careful to make all the pieces of food the same size so no monkey gets shorted which could create a conflict within the group. The heaviest diet by far that we prepare are the elephant buckets. We make we chop and fill to the brim four six gallon buckets with different fruits or vegetables. These can weigh up to 40 lbs and the pieces need to be about golf ball sized. The reason these pieces need to be small is so our elephants are prompted to exhibit natural foraging behaviors like they would in the wild. This is especially achievable if small bits of food are scattered throughout the exhibit or in their enrichment. We use this idea of foraging enrichment with almost all our other animals too.

A giant popsicle I made for the Sun Bears on a particularly warm day last week

A giant popsicle I made for the Sun Bears on a particularly warm day last week

While it can be a bloody and messy job, completing the meat diets is a rewarding feeling. Especially since to get the proper weight, some large pork neck bones must be cut in half! Bones for the tigers, lions and hyenas usually weigh in at around 1.5-2 lbs and our 5 tigers go through nearly 12 lbs of meat per day. I am always impressed by the variety of meat to which our carnivores have access. Not the least of which are ox tail bones, ground turkey, pork bones, frozen chickens, whole frozen rabbits, whole frozen rats, horse loin and even venison on occasion. Nearly every day our big cats and hyenas get bones but the type of ground meat they get changes depending on the day of the week. Our lucky senior Griffon Vulture gets a different type of meat every day of the week but he appears to be most fond of venison. Many of our other carnivorous/omnivorous birds get ground meat, fish and frozen mice in addition to vitamin oils and powders. It’s a stinky job to slice up defrosted smelt for the ibis but they do seem to love it.

Bird diets are another time consuming job taking 2 hours to make but they are well worth it and visually appealing. Over 20 trays are filled with different types of seeds, pellets and produce depending on the aviary they are going into. To make sure our birds don’t get bored we will put in additions like grated cheese, black beans, hard boiled eggs and oyster shell. A large portion of our birds and other animals are partially if not completely insectivores so for this reason we keep and care for live insects in the commissary. Besides, it’s always more soothing to prepare food to the sound of chirping crickets.

With enough volunteer or intern help, the summation of all these diets usually take 3-4 hours to make before they are taken up to the main zoo’s walk in refrigerator.  Defrosting meats, restocking our large fridge, tending to the insect colonies, and lots of cleaning are part of the normal daily duties. Work can be slow and laid back or rushed and stressful but one thing for certain is there’s never a boring day in commissary.

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