Wednesday, June 6, 2012 , Updated 12:00 a.m., June 22, 2012
UPDATED: Dallas Zoo animals eat restaurant-quality food
Who knew gorillas could be so picky?
Imagine having 2,000 mouths to feed every day, and then factor in the picky eaters. The nutritionist at the Dallas Zoo spends nearly $58,000 per month to keep the animals fed, some who, like teenagers, develop turnoffs to certain foods for no particular reason.
"Kisutu the Cheetah is one of our really picky girls,” said Kerri Slifka, the curator of nutrition at the Dallas Zoo. “We've actually gone to Central Market to get 5 pounds of ground bison. ... We've had to really scratch our heads and figure out what sorts of things she will eat.”
A new, 7,900 square-foot facility on Dallas Zoo grounds with a $1.4 million pricetag will help Slifka and her team prepare the hundreds of pounds of meat and veggies every day for their animal inhabitants. Currently, the team makes food in another facility on zoo grounds, but the kitchen is three times smaller. “We're tripping over each other,” Slifka said.
Since the Giants of the Savanna and a new birds exhibit were added to the Dallas Zoo, the number of animals increased by nearly 30% and Slifka said it was clear they'd need a new place to mix up breakfast, lunch, or dinner for the animals.
The new space looks like any kitchen designed for human food: It's got huge freezers – one for vegetables, one for meats – ovens, microwaves, a big chopper, and several sinks. They steam carrots and sweet potatoes (yum!) and hard boil eggs for certain animals. And they also make special cakes out of sugar-free, fat-free muffin mix, adding fresh fruit for primates for birthdays or other special occasions. Better, some of the animals get ice treats with frozen juices or flavored water when it gets hot.
The Asian small-clawed otter:
- Smelt and capelin (fish)
- Canned cat food (to fend off kidney stones)
- Blue crab and krill
Lorikeets (small parrots):
The produce is purchased from restaurant supply companies, the same that some restaurants in Dallas-Fort Worth order from. “In many cases, I swear, we're pickier [than restaurants],” said Slifka. “If you won't eat it, I don't send it out to the animals. We're really concerned about their health.”
The gorillas, says Slifka, occasionally decide they don't want to eat spinach, which is a regular part of their diet. So they'll get romaine instead, or red-leaf lettuce, one of their favorites. They're not fond of the swiss chard – which is then given to other animals since the zoo grows it on their grounds in beds at the front gate.
The new facility was donated by the late William M. Beercherl and through a grant from the Eugene McDermott Foundation. It opens June 13.
UPDATE: If you want to get an in-person glimpse of the birthday cakes, the zoo is hosting an Animal Birthday Party on Saturday, June 23. Because it's difficult to celebrate every animal's birthday, they're throwing one big party. Attendees can sign animal birthday cards and even bring gifts.
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