California zoo aims to improve nutrition for its animals

Fresno BeeJune 13, 2011 

Every day at Fresno Chaffee Zoo, food is chopped, sliced and diced for hundreds of hungry mouths.

It's not happening at the snack bar. This is an industrial kitchen where getting that food to the animals takes hours of preparation.

Zookeepers can't just toss raw meat or a bucketful of grain at feeding time. And now Chaffee Zoo is getting help to make sure it is providing its animals the best possible nutrition.

Chaffee is the first zoo in the U.S. to join with the San Diego Zoo in a program to improve animal nutrition, said Michael Schlegel, director of nutritional services for the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park.

Schlegel will help guide Chaffee through its hundreds of different meals that meet specific dietary needs.

There is something new every day," he said. "Everything is a research project because a lot of times the answer isn't out there, so we try to find an answer to enhance our understanding and try to share that with our colleagues."

Most zoos have veterinarians -- but nutrition is a small part of what is taught in medical school, Schlegel said. He is one of about a dozen full-time nutritionists in U.S. zoos.

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