Posts Tagged With: Nutrition

Browse 101: What is browse and why do we need it

Allison Headley, Animal Operations’ Supervisor of Horticulture, guest-blogs on ZooHoo! about our Browse Program and how Dallas-area residents can help feed our animals! 

It should come as no surprise that with such big animals to care for comes big appetites! One of ways we care for our animals is through our Browse Program where our community can help feed our elephants and other browse-eating animals (more about that later!). For now, let’s chat about the basics of browse.

What is browse? What is a browser?

In simple terms, there are carnivorous animals who eat meat, and herbivores who eat plants. When it comes to herbivores, there are “grazers” who graze on fields at ground level, and there are “browsers” who browse on various foliage of shrubs and trees. We use the term browse often — it’s defined as, “Plant material for consumption or enrichment that is cut and carried to animals in a collection.”

Why do we need browse?

Browse is a crucial element in some of our animal’s diets. It’s full of nutrition that some herbivores need, like proteins, fats, and amino acids.

Browse is also an enrichment item that promotes natural behaviors, such as foraging. It can be used to expand the usage of a habitat, too. Each morning when our elephant team is prepping the Giants of the Savanna habitat, the keepers will scatter branches around in every crevice to encourage the elephants to seek for food and use the entire habitat space.

Also, by providing our animals with browse, we are lessening their eating impact on the landscapes within our habitats. So the habitats continue to look lush and beautiful, and the animals are still active and work to find their scattered food.

How do we collect browse?

We follow the City of Dallas’ Bulk Trash Schedule to find the majority of our browse. Dallas residents have a designated week out of the month where the City allows them to set out bulky trash items that’ll be picked up and disposed of. Our team visits those designated areas to find piles of fresh browse before they’re hauled away.

We also have a few dedicated tree trimming companies that will alert us when large amounts of safe and approved browse items are available. Plus, the City of Dallas Parks and Recreation Department contacts us twice a month to gather material they’ve cut on the City’s golf courses.

Don’t forget about us this winter!

We are always looking for fresh browse for our animals — rain or shine, 365 days of the year. And you can help! With cooler temps coming, many of our go-to trees and shrubs will lose their leaves, and our options become more limited. For animals like African elephants and giraffes, they eat more than just the leaves of the trees we provide them — they enjoy eating the twigs and strip the bark off, too. So we’re still in search for leaf-less browse to feed these species.

For our other critters who are strictly leaf-eaters, it can be a little more challenging in the winter. Evergreen trees are hard to come by, and the common live oak is toxic to our animals. So that leaves us with magnolia, photinia, loquat, and bamboo to collect for them. If you have any of those items available this winter, please contact us!

Check out our Browse Program for all the details, including FAQs, a list of approved plant material, and contact information.

Categories: Nutrition | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Digging for breakfast: It’s a hog thing

A few times a month in the Giants of the Savanna habitat, you’ll see our four resident hogs with their bottoms up in the air, tails wagging as they shovel dirt with their tusks and noses.

It takes a lot of arm strength and sweat for keeper Christina Eastwood to cut foot-deep holes in the Texas clay for warthogs and red river hogs in their Giants of the Savanna habitats.
It takes a lot of arm strength and sweat for keeper Christina Eastwood to cut foot-deep holes in the Texas clay for warthogs and red river hogs in their Giants of the Savanna habitats.
Dallas Zoo/Cathy Burkey
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Hank and Riley, our red river hogs, and Marge and Akoko, our warthogs, dig deep into the ground searching for their breakfast. To keep the hogs enriched, their keepers like to make them work to find their food, just as they would in the wild.A hog’s most natural behavior, when it comes to foraging, is to smell for their food in the ground and dig for it, searching for things like sweet potatoes and tree roots. It’s common for them to dig a few feet down to find their next meal.However, hiding food for some of our animals isn’t as easy as you may think. Armed with a posthole digger, mammal keeper Christina Eastwood gets quite the arm workout plowing through the tough Texas clay. Each time, she creates six holes in the red river hog habitat and another six for the warthogs.

After all the holes are dug, she drops in their food — a combination of pelleted grain and a variety of produce. “These guys prefer to work for their food,” Eastwood said. “Our No. 1 goal is to try and elicit natural behaviors. If these guys were in the wild, they’d spend the majority of their day foraging, when they’re not sleeping.”

The holes are then covered up and the hogs are let in. They usually begin sniffing for their normal scattered food on the ground. When that’s nowhere to be found, Eastwood says they know it’s a “challenging day.” With their incredible sense of smell, the hogs quickly find the holes and begin digging. They kneel down, fold their ankles under, and use their snouts as shovels.

Even after they’ve found all the food, they’ll go back to every hole to double-check that nothing was left behind. “Even a week later, Riley will keep checking the holes, thinking maybe food magically appeared or maybe she left one little piece behind,” Eastwood said with a laugh.

And as much as we want our hogs to stay enriched and active, we also want our guests to experience one of their natural behaviors. So come early on your next visit to the Zoo and you just may see those bottoms up in the air, digging for breakfast.

Check out this video to see how keepers challenge our warthogs and red river hogs to forage for their food.

Categories: Africa, Enrichment, Exhibits and Experiences, Mammals, Nutrition, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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