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Animal diets by the number

Posted by: Caileigh Robertson, Communications

Imagine the amount of food it takes to feed your family every week. The average American eats nearly 40 pounds of food a week. With two adults, maybe a teenager and a couple of kiddies gathered around the table, those appetites add up fast (especially now that Thanksgiving is here, and many of us double up on servings)!

Now, imagine the zoo preparing dinner for three lions, three elephants and two full-grown hippos. Those 40 pounds of food, even the extra Thanksgiving servings, start to sound more like an afternoon snack now, don’t they? Trust us when we say that animal cravings are far greater than any hungry teenager in your household.

At the zoo, our animals’ food comes through the commissary, which is more or less a grocery depot for the animals. Much like a neighborhood market might stock your family’s mealtime essentials, the commissary shelves each animal’s breakfasts, lunches and dinners based on the season’s freshest selection.

Produce, aisle seven. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Every week, a delivery of four six-foot pallets of produce makes its way to the commissary. Weighing down those pallets are 6,000 pounds of fruits and veggies! The biggest bulk of those pallets is romaine lettuce. In fact, we receive 40 cases of it weekly.

Meat, on the other hand, is ordered as needed. Over the course of two to three months, our large cats go through about 2,500 pounds of chicken, beef, turkey and bones. The lions are the biggest consumer of meat at 10 pounds per day!

Lions enjoy a chicken treat. Video produced by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Though, that’s nothing compared to a few of our herbivores. Our three elephants require the largest diets by far. Watoto, Chai and Bamboo are fed six pounds of grain, close to 10 pounds of fruits and vegetables, and 80-100 pounds of hay every day. That’s 116 pounds of food! Think of how much they require in a year’s time. For the elephants alone, the commissary orders 1,500 pounds of apples; 1,387 bananas; 152 cantaloupes; about 5,000 pounds of carrots; more than 7,000 pounds of elephant pellets; and nearly 131,400 pounds of hay every year!

Mmm, a pumpkin snack. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Much less in weight, but equally important, are the thousands of bugs ordered for our birds’ daily plates of worm spaghetti. Okay, it’s not actually spaghetti but mealworms, crickets and waxworms are a nutritious part of the tawny frogmouth’s diet. To put on their winter weight and prepare for the cold temperatures, tawny frogmouths eat nearly twice as much food during the winter. Hmm… sounds like my winter diet. Anyway, on top of a few bug salads, frogmouths also feast on two teenage mice throughout each day.

A tawny frogmouth adult and chick await their wormy feast. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Another fascinating bird diet is the diet of Coba, the spectacled owl. Raptors like Coba need just enough food to stay in flight for their journeys. In fact, their food intake motivates their activity levels. Coba dines on two to three mice a day to maintain his 735-765 gram frame. Though, he could still soar the skies for up to six days without eating anything at all!

Shouldn't have eaten that extra mouse. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Interested in being a part of mealtime at the zoo? Join the Penguin Feeding Experience, 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. (or while fish supply lasts) daily through April. Feeding the penguins requires a $5 fee per person, cash only at the exhibit or pay by credit card at the West Entrance. You'll get hand-to-beak close with the penguins as you feed them a fishy treat!

Technically a carnivore, but totally an om-nom-nomnivore. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.


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