Conservation Kitchen

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Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and the Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s Website!

Camille_W4_picThe nutrition of the animals is a top priority for the personnel working at the Zoo and Safari Park. Last week the interns got to meet with Michael Schlegel, the Director of Nutritional Services, and Katie Kerr, an Associate Nutritionist for the San Diego Zoo. They are two of three nutritionists in charge of creating and adjusting the diets for over 7,000 animals! The work that they do helps ensure each animal is receiving the proper nutrients they need to live a long and healthy life. The interns got to see just a few of the animals in their care as they took us on a miniature tour of the Zoo.

So, how does nutrition help with conservation efforts? Well first of all, when the animals have healthy diets it increases the species sustainability as healthy animals are more likely to reproduce. The Nutritionists take special care to replicate each animal’s natural diet to make sure they are getting everything they need. If an animal does not receive all the nutrients they need, they run the risk of becoming sick; which is why the job of a Nutritionist is so important to a zoo! When an animal does fall ill, Dr. Schlegel and Dr. Kerr can adjust and create new diets to help the animal have a fast and safe recovery. The health of each animal at the Zoo and Safari Park is an important part of the overall conservation of their entire species.

In addition to developing diets for animals that are sick, Dr. Schlegel and Dr. Kerr can create diets for reproductive purposes. When they are creating these diets they try to maintain proper levels of vitamin A and E to help with the fertility of the animals. The female animals that are ready to breed also need to maintain a healthy weight to help regulate their cycles and fertility. The Nutritionists just recently needed to change the diets of the elephants at the Zoo. They found that if the elephants were overweight then their calves would be too large which resulted in difficulties during birth. They also recently changed the diets for the southern white rhinos. The phytoestrogen that were once in their diets were removed and replaced with beta-carotene to help with their reproductive health. Each individual diet has a very significant impact on the reproduction rates for the animals at the Zoo and the Safari Park.

The work that the nutritionists do also serves to help with environmental conservation. When there is a team of nutritionists creating the diets there is significantly less waste produced. They are able to streamline the whole process of what foods are to be purchased and where it is to be purchased from. They also lower the Zoo’s carbon footprint by purchasing the extra meat from processors making products for human consumption.

The job of a nutritionist is never done, as they are always working to maintain and improve the health and happiness of the animals at the Zoo. They are also a very important piece of the puzzle in regards to the many conservation efforts the Zoo and Safari Park have in place. What can we do to help in these efforts? One option is being aware of your carbon footprint that is created when food products are shipped long distances. Buying local and in season can assist in significantly lowering your footprint!

Camille, Conservation Team
Week Four, Fall 2015