Supplemental Nutrition Industry Trends in Managed Care Facilities

In managed care settings like zoos, aquariums, sanctuaries or conservatories, exotic animal conservation requires the utmost attention to detail and animal husbandry. Facilities have adopted habitats and nutrition practices to more closely mimic natural environments, while understanding that facilities can’t exactly replicate native habitats.

One nutrition practice includes supplementing natural feedstuffs with supplemental feedstuffs (commercially- or custom-produced) to ensure animals receive a balanced diet. Because we cannot mimic what an animal eats in the wild, the goal is to replicate the nutrition and not the actual feed.

Natural feedstuffs

Carcass feeding for carnivores and hay feeding for herbivores are two of the main natural feeding options available to zoos. However, those feed sources are not without their own nutritional pitfalls.

Feeding whole body prey or portioned controlled carcasses has proven to be beneficial to improving normal feeding behavior of captive carnivores, while also providing stimulating activity. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Nutrition Advisory Group (NAG) acknowledges the use of this practice as a good management tool when the carcass or whole prey feeding is part of a nutritionally balanced and wholesome diet. But, depending on the carcass’ nutritional profile, additional supplementation may be needed to meet animal dietary requirements.

Herbivores in managed care are commonly fed baled hay traditionally used for livestock. Livestock, such  as dairy cows, often need more protein and energy in their diets compared to zoo animals. Since zoos have many different species and animals at different life stages, it’s important to source several types of hay that best meet all herbivores’ nutritional requirements. Hay quality is impacted by many factors including what stage it was harvested, moisture and storage time. It’s vital to test hay for forage quality to know the nutritional content and then balance for herbivores’ diets with supplemental feed.  

Supplemental diets

Feeding supplemental feedstuffs to zoo animals can help balance diets, particularly for minerals and vitamins. For example, grazing herbivores may need supplemental pelleted feed to compensate for hay with insufficient selenium or copper. African elephants in managed care are another example. Multiple research studies have shown African elephants to be deficient in vitamin E compared to their wild counterparts. Cube-based feeds like Mazuri® Grain Free Hay Enhancer offer a solution to help balance diet deficiencies.

At Mazuri, we offer a wide range of supplemental feeding options to complement a zoo animal’s natural feedstuffs, and many feeds were designed hand in hand with zoos and universities. In one of many examples, we’re partnering on polar bear research with the St. Louis Zoo and Alaska U.S. Geological Survey. Wild polar bear blood samples are being examined and compared to bears in managed care. Insights learned through this research have already shaped the new Mazuri® Wild Carnivore Bear Plus, and we will continue to learn through continued research how to best meet exotic animals’ nutritional needs.

More information and research on the nutritional needs of exotic animals in managed care can be found through the AZA Nutritional Advisory Group. Find more industry trends and articles here.