4 Facts to Evolve Your Exotic Animal Nutrition Knowledge

Your zoo has just acquired a female black crested gibbon. Like any endangered species in your care, you’re determined to do everything possible to keep her healthy, strong and comfortable. Gibbons are native to Vietnam, so it makes sense that the best food choice for her are the same leaves and fruits found in a Vietnam rainforest, right?

A natural based diet from a native habitat is a logical choice, but … in managed care, we can’t simply copy a wild diet because we don’t know everything animals eat in the wild and we can’t always find those food items.

The Mazuri research team, with the help of industry and research partners around the world, is making ground-breaking discoveries about exotic animal nutrition. Now the team is on a mission to re-educate wild animal caregivers with new nutrition facts that could completely change your feeding philosophy.

Fact #1: You Can’t Replicate a Wild Diet

Even the best efforts to source native food ingredients will not replicate a wild diet for an animal living in captivity. But don’t worry, you don’t have to replicate the foods, you just need to replicate the nutrition found in them.

Consider your black crested gibbon. Even if you source the exact type of rainforest leaves and fruits that wild gibbons eat, you have no way of knowing if your leaves have the same nutrients, she’d get from the Vietnam rainforest. Nutrients vary wildly based on the organic elements available in the soil, region and season.

Mazuri occasionally works with partners to collect blood samples from animals in the wild and then compares those samples to blood from animals in managed care. Understanding the differences in blood samples allows the Mazuri team to modify the nutrients in feed formulas for animals in managed care facilities so they more closely resemble the wild population.

Fact #2: No Species-Specific Food Requirements

There are no known species-specific foods needed for survival for animals in managed care facilities. Animals in the wild or in managed care need specific nutrients, but there are no specific ingredients required for any species.

That’s great news for animal caregivers who struggle to source native diets. For example, a polar bear will always prefer to eat a seal, but Mazuri researchers proved that the bear could survive and thrive on other nutrient-rich foods, like whale, geese and bird eggs, as well as a much more convenient and quality-controlled diet, like Marine Bear Diets.

Fact #3: Domestic Feeds Don’t Work for Wild Animals

Another assumption of many caregivers is thinking what’s good for a domestic species will be good for an exotic species. Wild animals are physiologically different than domestic animals and have different nutrient requirements.  

A common example is browsing species, like gazelle, deer and giraffes. They’re often fed the same production diet as domestic cattle—wheat, alfalfa, corn, soybean meal, molasses, salt, soybean oil, and vitamin and minerals that are designed to grow animals quickly.

But research has shown this high-starch, low-fiber diet has a damaging effect on papillae in rumen of ruminants, causing poor health and nutrient absorption.[1] (See the blesbok photo example.) With this knowledge, Mazuri developed the highly palatable, high-fiber Wild Herbivore Diet to support a healthy rumen and help ensure healthy animals.

Gazelle with light brown coat showcasing a copper deficiency.  Gazelle with a smooth, dark brown coat showcasing proper nutrition and copper levels.

Fact #4: Mazuri Feeds Can’t Evolve Without You

While today’s Mazuri exotic animal feeds are the best available now, more nutrition research is needed to evolve and improve the formulas. Exotic animal diets could not be developed without help from passionate zoo, university and industry partners. Mazuri has worked with many organizations, universities and researchers and with places such as Endangered Wolf Center, zoos and other managed care facilities to help develop the best exotic animal nutrition possible.

Wild animal diets evolve when Mazuri researchers, zoos and industry partners work together to help improve the health of animals in managed care.

If you’ve identified a nutrition challenge at your zoo, consider partnering with Mazuri to find a solution. Zoos also can apply for a Wild Animal Health Fund grant to support their nutrition research efforts.

[1] Influence of Diet Transition on Serum Calcium and Phosphorous and Fatty Acids in Zoo Giraffe
E.A. Koutsos, D. Armstrong, R. Ball, C Dikeman, J Hetherington, L. Simmons, E.V. Valdes, and M. Griffin, Zoo Biology 2010