CLEVELAND, Ohio – Just like you, animals don’t just stick to one type of food. Many have a rich and diverse diet that includes some items you may not normally associate with them or particular preferences for how they like to eat.
The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo does its best to accommodate every taste bud in its menagerie.
Here are five animals we found to have the most interesting components to their diet. This is final part of a three-day series examining the task of feeding the animals at the zoo.
* Part 1: A detailed look at the eating habits of animals from lions, tigers and geers to anteaters and koalas
* Part 2: Breaking down the food budget, from crickets and worms to fresh produce, a look at what the zoo buys and the cost
1. Avocados for anteaters
Giant anteaters are typically insectivores, meaning their diet primarily consists of bugs. And while anteaters are natural ant eaters, they also have an affinity for avocado.
Giant anteaters have the longest tongue of any mammal in relation to body size and use it to consume 30,000 insects a day in the wild. They also eat other insects and fruit in captivity and have regular access to their favorite bunch time snack.
Kutter, the zoo’s anteater, will use his sharp talons to puncture the avocado and then use his 24-inch tongue to eat the ripe fruit inside, wrapping it around the pit and peel.
2. Mushrooms for spider tortoises
The spider tortoise is an endangered species found in the wild in only a small portion of Madagascar and typically eats vegetation, insects, and even other animal droppings. But the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo has also found that the reptile loves to eat mushrooms.
That makes sense. Madagascar has a number of wild edible mushrooms that grow on the ground the tortoises walk around on. But as loss of habitat is a huge threat to the spider tortoise’s survival, it also eradicates the little something extra the tortoise can eat when walking on the island’s floor.
The tortoises are fed a mixture of fruits and veggies a couple of times a week, according to Kristy Becka, animal keeper at the zoo. They rarely eat everything provided, but no mushroom has ever been left behind.
3. Eucalyptus for koalas
You likely know that koalas almost exclusively eat the leaves of eucalyptus plants. But their preference goes beyond the specific vegetation.
Koalas will only eat the tips of each eucalyptus leaf. This is because the tip is the tenderest, most precious part of the leaf. In the wild, eucalyptus contains toxins detrimental to almost every other animal, allowing koalas to have their pick of the very best leaves and only eat the parts they enjoy the most.
However, the toxins are what cause koalas to sleep so much, according to Sam Bowman, lead keeper at the zoo. Their digestive system takes a lot of energy to process the plants. The toxins in eucalyptus do not make the koalas drunk or high, which is a popular myth about the marsupials.
The three koalas at the zoo will go through about 300 pounds of eucalyptus a week, which is also how they receive all of their water intake.
4. Tart cherry juice for golden-bellied mangabeys
Golden-bellied mangabeys are typically found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, so what do they know about tart cherry juice?
Well, Janet, one of the golden-bellied mangabeys at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, has diabetes, and the juice is part of her treatment. However, all animals “participate” in their healthcare, which means nothing is forced on them if they don’t like it. The tart cherry juice is both mangabey and veterinarian approved for supporting the primate’s health.
The juice is used in a mixture of fenugreek, chia, and starch to create a treat that is often given after Janet gets her blood drawn for testing, according to Chelsea Clark, Janet’s animal keeper.
This is not the only instance of food used to help an animal’s health condition. Oils are used for arthritis in other primates, bears, and dingos.
5. Human diet for gorillas
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo has been at the forefront of studying and adapting gorillas’ diets. For instance, Dr. Elena Less, an associate animal curator at the zoo, learned from her research that diet stabilizers marketed toward gorillas were making them sick.
Due to how close gorillas are to humans in the evolutionary line, you may be unsurprised to learn that what is best for people is also best for gorillas.
Gorillas should have more fiber and vegetables in their diet, similar to what a human should be eating. Gorillas can easily consume up to 30lbs of mixed greens a day, including vitamin-rich alfalfa and their favorite food, endive. Gorillas also graze all day, which is another reason the diet stabilizer was a problem, according to Brian Price, animal keeper at the zoo. Eating one high-calorie meal a day went against their natural habits.
Additionally, the baby gorilla Kayembe is still breastfeeding and on baby formula, and will be for at least one year, and then transfer to cows milk and vegetarian. The formula is the same as what a human child would be given and will be weaned off as Kayembe’s teeth grow in and transition to eating vegetation like the adults.
To see some of the animals at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and how they are fed, view the photo gallery below.