Did you know that animals at the Reid Park Zoo eat popsicles? They’re not the same kind we buy in the frozen section at the grocery story, but they’re popsicles all the same. Some are filled with delicious berries, while others contain whole fish and blood.
It’s those peculiar culinary habits and wildlife meals that will be on display this Saturday evening at the zoo, which will host another rendition of Summer Safari Nights beginning at 6 p.m.
Don’t be surprised if you leave with a new recipe to try at home.
One of the many animals in the limelight is the Zoo’s pair of squirrely African Spotted-Neck Otters. Both Hasani and Pfeiffer, who are 6 and 20 years old, respectively, will be showing off their speedy swimming skills and their love of all things fish.
According to animal care supervisor Adam Ramsey, the carnivorous otters maintain a diet full of fish and small crustaceans. The zoo, in keeping with the species’ dietary needs, frequently feeds the pair a bucket full of fish, along with shrimp, cucumber and zucchini, so as to mimic their natural eating habits as much as possible.
Fans of the long-bodied, friendly critters can help their future by keeping a closer eye on their own seafood choices and looking for sustainable sources, and by preventing litter from degrading waterways, Ramsey said.
There is an effort put in place by the Monterrey Bay Aquarium in California, called ‘Seafood Watch,’ which lists different types of seafood by how endangered they are in the wild.
“The program allows people to make informed decisions on what seafood they’re buying, and so if you come to the zoo, you can get a little pamphlet that shows which seafood are a good choice and which aren’t,” Ramsey said.
One of the most threatened land-based mammals on earth lives at the zoo, the pair of Southern White Rhinos. Yebonga, 46, and Fireball, 16, are typically found in Southern Africa. In addition to discussing poaching threats the rhinos face, zoo staff will talk about the massive animals’ solely grass diet. The animals graze massive plots of land across both Africa and Asia to sustain its insatiable appetite.
The massive herbivores require the best grass possible, which requires the zoo’s staff to bring in the best quality feed possible. zoo staff works with a local provider to supply its heady supply of grass, including alfalfa and Bermuda strains.
The rhinos also receive pellets that are designed specifically for large herbivores in captivity, which allows them to mimic their livelihoods on the Serengeti’s of Africa and the high plains of Asia.
While the two rhinos live solely off plants, there’s a pride of lions not far away with much different tastes.
Shombay, Kaya and Nayo, who are 10, 11 and 5, respectively, are just as carnivorous as their brethren found on the high plains of Africa. Feeding these large carnivores can be a challenge, according to Ramsey, with the staff preparing a special meat product shipped in from Nebraska.
The meat product is a ground patty that combines organs and other parts of animals with game they’d eat in their natural habitat.
The lions also receive beef hearts and bones several times a week, with knuckle bones and ox tails serving as the treat de jour.
The African Lion can typically be found wandering the Serengeti, between Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.
Saturday’s lion appearance coincides with the zoo’s partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Network’s Lion Recovery Fund and Disney.
The plan, according to Reid Park Zoo Marketing and Communications Supervisor Chelo Grubb, is to host several fundraising events, including a showing of the new “Lion King” movie at Roadhouse to help boost residents better understand the species’ current welfare.
Grubb cited the rapid decline of the species since the film’s initial release 25 years ago, down from 200,000 to 20,000 in a quarter century.
Ramsey attributed much of that decline to loss of habitat from human incursion, with farmers killing off invading lions that try to attack livestock serving as another motivator for decline. He hopes that those who make the trip to the zoo will enjoy seeing the animals up close and personal, with an added treat of hearing the animals’ specialized vocal talents serving as an extra motivator.
“The great thing about the event being at night is that, a lot of times that’s one of the best times to hear the lions vocalize,” Ramsey said. “A lot of times people think it’s actually a recording as you’re walking through the zoo, but it’s actually the lions that you’re hearing.”
While there is plenty going on in the animal enclosures, the real culinary work is done behind closed doors, inside the Reid Park zoo’s culinary center—where the staff prepare more than 500 meals a day.
The facility, which includes a full kitchen, as well as a walk-in fridge and freezer, houses the various types of dry feed, as well as fruits, vegetables, meats and other types of food.
Ramsey estimated that the facility has between 60 and 70 types of dry food alone, with much of it stacked on top of shelves that occupy the facility’s massive walls.
All of the Zoo’s food is held to USDA standards, with similar regulations as any kitchen that serves food to humans. The staff only procure human-grade produce and receive deliveries twice a week.
“What I always tell my keepers is that if you aren’t willing to eat it, don’t feed it to our animals,” Ramsey said. “So, if anything is wilted, if anything is bruised, if anything is moldy, it gets thrown away and we replace it with fresh stuff.”
The kitchen staff have all their recipes loaded onto an iPad in the commissary area, replacing the old binders full of dietary recipes that were used in the past.
Those that attend the Saturday event will have the opportunity to prepare a meal for one of the facility’s animals, according to Grubb.
Ramsey hopes such an opportunity will allow people to gain greater insight and appreciation for the work that goes into maintaining a top-notch zoo. He believes those that attend will leave with a greater appreciation of the staff’s work, understanding how much work is put in to placate each animal’s dietary needs each and every day.
“We want to make sure that we are meeting the health needs of our animals and we watch that very carefully here,” Ramsey said.
The Reid Park Zoo is located at 3400 Zoo Court. Summer Safari Nights: Culinary Delights runs from 6 to 8 p.m.. The program continues every Saturday with a different theme through Aug. 17. More information can be found online at reidparkzoo.org.