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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.

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