Polly’s vet explains that a poor diet can cause any number of illnesses. In primates, for example, a diet rich in sugar leads to diseases typical of civilization: “We get cardiovascular disease, strokes, and our teeth rot. Diabetes is also a big problem. It can also lead to diarrhea and is more likely to have parasites.”
Instead of fruit, the monkeys now get salad and vegetables. “Of course there are primates that eat fruit in the wild. But these fruits are usually much lower in carbohydrates than our farmed fruits,” says Polley.
The last fodder beets will soon be gone
A low-sugar diet pays off. “In the case of the hamdreas baboons, for example, we had a severe whipworm infestation, by changing the feeding schedule we were able to reduce it to an acceptable level,” explains the doctor. “And I’ve never had a diabetic monkey,” said Polly. In other zoos there are definitely animals that need insulin therapy.
As with many people, a drastic change in diet is not possible. Breeders also have to be persuaded from time to time, because they also want to spoil their care from time to time. Unhealthy things are gradually reduced and replaced.
“We still have forage beets in feeding ruminants. And once you feed them, that’s the end of it, because they also contain a lot of sugar,” says Polly. High sugar can lead to rumen acidosis, a metabolic disease, in ruminants. Alternatively, high-energy pellets with few carbohydrates but plenty of vitamins, minerals and crude fiber is a better alternative.
According to Polly, experts from the European Zoo Association will help with the question of what animals to feed and how best with practical examples. A lot of knowledge also came from the USA. In terms of healthy nutrition for zoo animals, it is more advanced there than in Germany.
Occasionally an ice cream cake
Despite the change in diet, animals don’t have to do without surprises completely. For the zoo’s 65th birthday, apprentices dressed the camels with apples, peppers, and carrots on a straw, explains spokeswoman Philene Hutchmeister. Ice cream cakes are still possible. “You can color the water with spinach, beetroot or carrot juice,” says Polly.
Paul Dirks, chair of the Department of Life Science Education and Animal Biology at the University of Frankfurt, also sees a purpose in zoo animal birthdays and surprise cake: “You definitely can’t generalize: maybe with reptiles it doesn’t matter whether you put a cake in front of them. But it does when it comes to species. Like a gorilla.”
According to the expert, when animal breeders deal intensively with issues of feeding and occupation, the animals also benefit. This is well documented in studies. This can foster an emotional bond and trusting relationship between human and animal – and there is joy in doing business with them.
For Fatu, the world’s oldest gorilla according to the zoo, there was a gift basket with peppers, dandelions and – as a big exception – watermelon for his 66th birthday this year. In addition, a fancier handed out a bouquet of lettuce, herbs, and sprigs adorned with edible flowers and berries.
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