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Wellington Zoo’s Animal Delights

26 April 2005

Wellington Zoo’s Animal Delights

Frozen mice, chicks and Tamarin smoothies are not the delights a normal household plans to store in their freezer, but for Wellington Zoo this is the usual stash.

Supplying 557 animals with a highly nutritious and individualised diet is no mean feat considering food needs to be sourced, stored and prepared all in a days work.

Wellington Zoo’s Curator Equipment and Supplies, Russell McKeen says “this is a four staff operation starting at 6:00am, 365 days a year preparing 113 highly specialised species diets that have been put together by our Veterinarian. Each animal’s diet varies daily so we need to follow the diets to know who needs what so that each animal gets the right amount of vitamins, minerals, proteins and fat each week”. Behind the scenes, however, the Zoo must ensure that the appropriate foods are sourced and that its two drive-in chillers and freezer are functioning correctly in order to store the food safely prior to consumption.

Sourcing Zoo diets involves a lengthy process of determining not only what foods are appropriate to which animals, but who can supply this produce at the highest quality for the best price throughout the year.

“As animals would only eat the best fruit on a tree I only buy the best quality foods. It’s sometimes better than what people buy at the supermarket. Sure there’s a cost factor involved, but we try to negotiate as much as possible” comments Russell.

However, while the Zoo generally does not accept food from members of the public, it is supported by local businesses including Hill’s Pet Foods, Watties and Arataki Honey who sponsor the Zoo with produce for the animals. Resene Paints also support the Zoo by providing the buckets used to transport the food; without the paint of course!

Sourcing foods can involve approaching a number of different suppliers for the same goods because of the cost and the quality.

Despite the fact that all pet food suppliers must adhere to New Zealand Food Safety Authority legislation, Wellington Zoo experienced an unfortunate incident in 2001 when Jambi the Tiger died after eating poisoned meat that had passed through the supplier undetected. This has meant that the Zoo’s Veterinary and food team have had to increase the amount of research and security checks they undertake on suppliers before purchasing and administering food for the animals.

“I sometimes go to look at the markets to check who does the buying and where it comes from to check it’s the best quality for the animals” says Russell.

However, quality and quantity come at a price, and $170,000 per annum or $14,166.66 per month this is a fair bite out of the Zoo’s overall yearly budget. Wellington Zoo’s three Giraffes, for example, cost the Zoo approximately $7800 in food for one year, while the three Otters eat roughly $1560 dollars worth of beef mince, hard boiled eggs, chicks and popcorn annually.

Wellington Zoo Chief Operating Officer, Mauritz Basson says “We are often asked why Wellington Zoo doesn’t have Elephants. The main reason would be the space needed for these mega herbivores. Secondly to keep Elephants we would need a minimum of four animals (international Elephant Management regulations) which would cost us $250k per annum for feeding alone. Adding all the other costs in Elephant keeping makes it a very expensive exercise for a small Zoo.”

As part of the Zoo’s long range development plan the Zoo will introduce a number of new animals which whilst increasing the food bill will assist in the endeavour to make Wellington Zoo a magical place of learning and fun for our visitors.


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