Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn more about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here!
This week we got an exclusive look at the Zoo’s “kitchen” from Associate Nutritionist, Mrs. Jen Parsons. Every animal at the Zoo has a diet sheet that says what they get to eat each day, just like a meal plan for people. Mrs. Parsons creates and monitors the diets for all animals at the Zoo. She works with keepers and veterinarians, communicating with them about any differences in the animals’ behavior that might be related to their diet. Mrs. Parsons also sits in on check-ups at the vet hospital to see if animals are overweight or need more minerals (this is seen mainly in tests that are done after drawing blood). If diets need adjustments to take care of a particular animal’s needs, then Mrs. Parsons goes over the diet and carefully calculates all of the components. Just like people, some animals don’t like the diets that are prepared to meet their nutritional needs. Mrs. Parsons needs to make sure that the diets are nutritional but interesting enough that the animals will like it and want to eat it.
In the “kitchen” these diets become reality. I say “kitchen” because this is no ordinary kitchen. Known as the Forage Warehouse, it has walk-in freezers,fridges, saws, and more food than a supermarket. The Zoo buys restaurant-quality meat and produce in bulk. The freezers store all of the meat and fish; one fridge is used to thaw out frozen meat, the other is used to store produce. It may sound strange to find a saw in a kitchen, but just like a dog getting a bone as a treat, many of the animals at the Zoo get bones too. The Zoo receives whole cow femur bones from Natural Balance, the same company that provides the Zoo with their beef-based “carnivore diet.” All of the people who work in the kitchen have restaurant management training and are very conscious of how the food is bought, stored, and prepared.
The Zoo also stocks things like dog and cat food, which can add extra vitamins and minerals to the animals’ meals. The Zoo no longer uses raw poultry in any way, and even their hard-boiled eggs are cooked before they arrive at the Zoo. This is done as a precaution against avian viruses. For the carnivores in the Zoo, their meat-based diet comes in tubes, and is basically ground beef. Some of the predators at the zoo also receive whole animals, such as rabbits, rats, and mice. For the safety of the animals all of the meat is served within 24 hours of the keeper getting the meat from the kitchen. Similarly, all of the produce is used in a timely manner to ensure that it is fresh. Every day food is delivered to keepers in the morning and the afternoon is spent getting ready for the next day.
Mrs. Parsons is always busy tailoring diets to fit the ever-changing needs of the animals at the Zoo. She deals with everything from diabetes to picky eaters . She has to make sure that animals eat the food that is served to them. All of her work helps to keep the animals healthy and happy. If you have ever packed a lunch, you know how hard that can be!
Morgan, Real World Team
Fall 2012, week 4