CuriousCity: Calcium-dusted bugs and tasty wallaby all on the zoo menu video

CAMERON BURNELL/FAIRFAX NZ.

A behind the scenes look at feeding time at the zoo.

The circle of life takes some curious twists in captivity.

Fluttering tui watch from bushes as Zulu the lion guzzles his "triple mix" of beef heart, lungs and kidneys off his pride's rock. 

Elsewhere in Wellington Zoo, the meerkats snack on $250-a-kilogram crickets and meal worms.

Wellington Zoo nutrition adviser Henk Louw lays out a meal for the lions of horse, and beef "triple mix": heart, lungs, ...
JOEL MAXWELL/ FAIRFAX NZ

Wellington Zoo nutrition adviser Henk Louw lays out a meal for the lions of horse, and beef "triple mix": heart, lungs, and kidney.

It's a costly and carefully managed business making sure the animals are dining well. It's all centred on the zoo's kitchen, complete with prep benches, cutting boards, a walk-in fridge and giant chiller.

But there are subtle differences from human kitchens – such as the $500 box of writhing bugs, and bamboo shoots stacked in the corner of the fridge for a red panda.

Nutrition adviser Henk Louw's job is to plan the diets, juggling carbs, protein and fat content for about 500 animals at the zoo, making sure they don't eat too much, or too little.

Zulu the male lion approaches his dinner.
JOEL MAXWELL/ FAIRFAX NZ

Zulu the male lion approaches his dinner.

He works with stores supervisor Willem van der Merwe to prepare meals a day ahead, then store them in the fridge.

The food ranges from fruit and vegetables to wallabies, chicks, rabbit heads and live bugs for the smaller carnivores.

Bugs are an interesting case – you can't feed live animals to other animals in captivity, Louw says.

Zulu tucks in.
JOEL MAXWELL/ FAIRFAX NZ

Zulu tucks in.

"People usually come to the zoo and ask, 'Why don't you put in some rabbits and let the lions hunt?' But it's actually illegal in New Zealand to do that because of animal welfare."

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The idea might be good for the lions, but not so much for the rabbits.

However, the exceptions to the rule are live invertebrates – animals without backbones, such as meal worms and crickets – which are fair game for zoo reptiles and meerkats.

They're expensive, but they are delicious for the likes of the meerkats, which gobble up bugs as if they were lollies, especially after they have been given a dusting with calcium.

As for top-of-the-foodchain predators, such as the zoo's five lions, they get an all-meat diet of horse, rabbit, wallaby, chicken and beef.

Beef is the least common, as it is "quite fatty compared to the horse", Louw says.

To simulate wild lions' eating patterns, in which they gorge, then go without till their next kill, the zoo's pride have "starve days" between feeds.

The two male lions at the zoo eat up to 36 kilograms of meat a week, about the weight of a large afghan hound, and the females get through about 20kg.

Feeding time is a straightforward process, with the males and females being taken out of their enclosures separately, and the meals dropped for them in meaty piles.

The keepers don't even have to work to shift the lions into the enclosure because they read human body language and routine as easily as humans could read theirs, Louw says.

"They know when the keeper is coming at a certain time of day, it can only be feeding time."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 - Stuff

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