Analyzing Bamboo and other Foods

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Bai Yun analyzes her nutritious bamboo.

What, if any, analysis is conducted at the San Diego Zoo to check the nutritional value of the different kinds of bamboos given to the pandas? The Nutritional Services departments at the Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park routinely sample our animals’ foods for nutrient analysis. We do not have a complete nutrient laboratory onsite, but we send feed and forage samples to multiple laboratories around the country to get complete nutrient profiles as needed. What our nutrition laboratory can do is prepare samples for analysis through oven- or freeze-drying techniques and grind the samples to 1 millimeter to ensure a representative sample.

It has been a number of years since bamboo has been analyzed for the giant pandas. Joyce Nickley, a former keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, completed her masters of science research by looking at the nutrient content of bamboo, with the results published in her thesis as well as in a chapter in Giant Pandas: Biology, Veterinary Medicine, and Management (2006, edited by D.E. Wildt, et al.). Additional browse plant analysis has been completed on multiple primate browse species, four of the many species of eucalyptus grown for koalas, four species of acacia browse, and pennisetum used for the elephants. Every load of hay (Bermuda grass, Sudan grass, and alfalfa) is sampled for nutrient analysis, and our custom feeds, commercial feeds, and prey items (insects, fish, rodents) are routinely analyzed.

Our typical analysis includes moisture, protein, fiber (neutral detergent fiber, acid detergent fiber), and minerals (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, molybdenum, sulfur chloride, and cobalt). In addition to these basic analyses, we often have lignin, sugar, starch, and fat analyzed. Due to the increased cost, we only analyze vitamins (A, D, E, C, and B vitamins), fatty acids, amino acids, selenium, and iodine for specific projects or clinical cases.

Routine nutrient analysis of the feeds we use at the Zoo and Park has allowed us to build a database of feed nutrient profiles that help us formulate diets for all of our animals, including our popular pandas, to keep them healthy and satisfied.

Michael Schlegel is the director of nutritional services for San Diego Zoo Global.