Sunday, February 8, 2015

The zoo lunchbox

Lunch time for the tiger. 

MetroPlus checks out what’s on the menu at the zoo

Porridge with ragi, milk, honey, bread, fruits and boiled egg twice a day; platter of cut fruits, coconut, ground nut and boiled egg; a mix of amaranthus, rice and egg…These are some of the dishes that the residents of the zoo have for lunch. There is more. The daily diet of the animals in city zoo is an interesting variety of cereals, grass, vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, egg, and nutrition supplements. The 700-odd ‘residents’ who have the 36-acre city zoo as their home live on a well-balanced diet, says B. Joseph, director, Department of Museums and Zoos. Food is stocked and readied in a huge store.

A big black board has all the different ‘dishes’ on the menu, with daily purchases also scribbled on it. While some staff members are busy cutting and chopping the vegetables and fruits, a few others are transferring what appears like feed into huge aluminium vessels and buckets, before loading it into the green van parked outside. Fish has arrived and is being cleaned.

It’s feeding time at the zoo.

The diet

The zoo conforms to the diet chart prescribed by the Central Zoo Authority. And the monthly expenditure on food comes to around Rs. 11 lakh.

Except for the carnivores, all the other animals are fed twice a day, at 11.30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Each animal has a specific diet. All items go through quantitative and qualitative checking, be it vegetables, fruits, pulses or meat, says Joseph.

“A concentrated ration is given to all the herbivores, which include deer, antelopes, Indian bison, buffalo, hippopotamus, rhinoceros… This ration has cattle feed, Bengal gram sprouts, cotton seed and green gram, salt and mineral mix. In addition, a mineral block and salt lick are kept in their respective enclosures,” says Jacob Alexander, zoo veterinarian. For the carnivores, 147 kg of meat is purchased daily. They have chicken on two days and beef on the remaining days. The tigers consume more than seven to eight kg of meat daily. “The meat is given fresh and therefore it goes through a stringent quality check at the market and at our slaughter house. As for fruits and vegetables, we put them in Potassium permanganate solution to ensure it is free of any contamination,” says K. Sadasivan Pillai, zoo superintendent.

Fish is given to water birds and otters. Gharials and turtles too eat fish.

The zoo campus has 180 cameras installed at various spots and a 24-hour, 365-day control room monitors all the activities. Plus, 35 wireless sets have been given to the staff members.

Vegetables and fruits

Cucumber is a staple for many animals and birds. In fact, it is a favourite of ducks and swans. They have it mixed with rice and spinach. Garlic is an exclusive ingredient of the birds’ diet. Green amaranthus is given to the ostrich, since it needs a fibre–rich diet. It is mixed with dog food, bananas, and vegetables such as carrot.

Do you know birds are fond of green chillies and big onions, especially the peacocks and pheasants? And the exotic varieties enjoy sunflower seeds, almonds, corn and groundnut. Star tortoises relish veggies in their diet, especially long beans (achinga) and cucumber. And guess who enjoys gooseberries? The rhinos! They have it with vegetables and bananas. The newly-acquired swamp deer have become so fond of jackfruit leaves that they can’t do without it. Fussy eaters indeed.

Grapes, guava, apple, banana, coconut, groundnut (husked and de-husked), papaya… are all for the monkeys. “They are very particular about the ripeness of the banana!” says Dr. Jacob. Apparently land tortoises too go bananas over banana.

The hunter

Saw a rat snake? Dail H for Harshad, the keeper of the reptile house. For, king cobras relish rat snakes. And Harshad has trained himself to get this favorite for the king cobras in his charge. An employee here for the 14 years, he is also an expert in catching lizards to feed the snakes. "The reptiles need live food, so it is quite a task to keep replenishing the stock," says Harshad. As for the seven anacondas in the house, a live hen is given once in five to seven days. But Arundhati, one of the anacondas, enjoys a large rat for her meals.

Specials on the menu

* Boiled egg is a favourite of many animals. “Monkeys just love it. But they eat only the yolk and discard the white. You should see how they line up to have it,” says Purushothaman, a keeper.

* Come summer, the bears love to have their fruit punch, which has loads of watermelon.

* Every morning the rhino is given a food supplement which is hidden inside a cucumber, because she refuses to open her mouth for anything else. The mother-son monkey duo, Ammu and Appu, too are given supplements daily. “They readily open the mouth when we arrive with a syringe full of liquid supplement, but are quite reluctant when a new person gives it,” says Vishu S. R, livestock inspector.

* The zoo is home to many animals who are well past their life expectancy. Like the toothless 88-year-old elephant Maheswari. She is fed rice, jaggery, fruits, bread and vegetables.

* Rheas, a species of flightless bird, enjoy munching on cabbage, cauliflower, rice and sliced vegetables. Its idea of a hearty meal is bovine heart, cooked and sliced.

* While most inmates take care of their newborns on their own, some of them have to be taken care of by zoo officials. For example, tiger cubs have to be fed once in two hours and goat milk is the best option.

* All carnivores fast on Monday, which is a holiday for the zoo.

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