Creature Culinary Creations

Upon entering the Animal Nutrition Center at the Oklahoma City Zoo, one is struck by the feeling of being in a banquet hall kitchen. The appliances are industrial sized, the preparation stations are gleaming stainless steel and the freezer is larger than most living rooms. The sounds of produce being chopped and trays shuffling is also evocative of something you would expect to hear in the kitchen of a large restaurant. But the Animal Nutrition Center, known internally as the commissary, doesn’t make food for employees or guests, it exclusively serves the OKC Zoo’s VIPs… its animals.

The Staff

Each day, it takes two full-time employees six hours to prepare and distribute meals for the nearly 1,200 at the Zoo. The remaining time is used for cleaning and prepping for tomorrow. Commissary Supervisor Gerald “Jerry” Krausz has been at the Zoo for 35 years and says his favorite meals to make are for the Great EscApe species: chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. He also says working around fresh ingredients inspires him to eat a more health-conscious diet.

The Process

The kitchen layout is functional and efficient. Two prep stations surround a central supply shelf. Each prep station has a recipe book broken down by animal habitat area then by species. Once the meals are ready, they are delivered (no Postmates required) to the specific habitat and served to a very grateful animal population.

The Food

Quality ingredients don’t come cheap. The animal food budget allocated for this fiscal year is just under $630,000. Veterinary teams report it’s a small cost to pay for ensuring animal welfare and good health. The fruits and vegetables, always served fresh, are the same quality found at grocery stores. Each species’ specific diet is formulated to provide the same nutrition they would get in the wild. Most herbivores and omnivores eat a pelleted diet, in addition to fresh fruit and veggies. Pellets have the consistency of dry dog food, but are specially formulated to meet the dietary needs of each species. Carnivores are served a variety of different meats. All processed meats are produced at or above USDA quality standards.

Picky Eaters & “Icky” Ingredients

Despite the fresh ingredients and quality preparation, some animals are very selective about what they will and won’t eat. For example, the wrinkled hornbill will only eat his fruit if it’s peeled. The Zoo’s grizzly bears, Will and Wiley, refuse to eat their broccoli, while the black bears love it. The staff is more than happy to accommodate these special requests. Plus, to add variety to their diets, many species have a weekly menu that shifts daily. Animals love some ingredients that might be viewed as “icky” by humans. The commissary is fully stocked with mice (three sizes), rabbits, chopped raw fish, feline meat blend and canine meat blend.

Going Green(er)

As part of a Zoo Conservation Committee recommendation last year, the commissary adopted and implemented new green practices. All produce scraps, like cantaloupe rind and other fruit and vegetable waste, totaling about 25 pounds per week, are composted. They also reuse all of the cardboard produce delivery boxes for diet delivery to the animal areas then they get recycled. The commissary is also home to an industrial dish washer that uses very low amounts of water achieving signifcant water savings as well. Coming soon to the commissary are reusable diet containers for transporting animal food. This will result in a reduction of plastic bag use (about 900 bags per week).

Recipes

Tayra

120 grams – Nebraska Feline Pellet Mix

240 grams – Omnivore Pellet Mix

32 grams – Egg

130 grams – Grapes

130 grams – Apple

130 grams – Cucumber

Not pictured: Two mice

 

 

Parrots

190 grams – Parrot Pellets

170 grams – Apple

156 grams – Pear

86 grams – Banana

110 grams – Orange

130 grams – Cooked Sweet Potato

6 slices – Corn on the Cob

84 grams – Blueberries

34 grams – Grapes

96 grams – Cantaloupe

200 grams – Mixed Vegetables

 

 

Prairie Dogs

1.65 kilograms – Rodent Chow Pellets

750 grams – Lettuce (chopped)

375 grams – Carrots

375 grams – Squash

 

 

Cassowary

560 grams – Apple

560 grams – Pear

560 grams – Grapes

560 grams – Papaya

560 grams – Cataloupe

560 grams – Banana

560 grams – Cucumber

560 grams – Tomato

560 grams – Kiwi

560 grams – Blueberry

*Wednesday’s meal includes six mice (not pictured)

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