Lean Meats and Jungle Gym for Fat Cats - The New Indian Express

Lean Meats and Jungle Gym for Fat Cats

Published: 16th Mar 2014 08:04:58 AM

They may not be munching nachos and gulping sodas in front of the TV, but food that is as bad as junk and lack of exercise are making animals in our zoos prone to lifestyle diseases. The problem is so severe that a set of guidelines has been released to put them back in shape.

A five-year study commissioned by Ministry of Environment and Forests confirmed what was long suspected—clueless zoo authorities are feeding animals the wrong kind of food, making them lethargic and fat, deprived of exercise as they are already.

Preparing diet charts for animals is not easy and it took scientists at the Indian Veterinary Research Institute in Bareilly over five years to provide a baseline data on feed consumption of 53 species. The study—Standardization of Animal Diets in Indian Zoos— was commissioned by Central Zoo Authority (CZA), an autonomous body under the environment ministry. The total cost of the project was around `30 lakh.

The guidelines, circulated to 200 zoos so far, suggests adding variety in feed, special foods only once a week, vitamin supplements and ban on bread, sweet fruits and high proteins like eggs, chicken, milk and liver.

So no more nuts and bread for monkeys, fruits and vegetables for elephants or milk and egg for tigers. If the guidelines are met, animals in captivity will not only have healthy food, but have to make an effort to look for their next meal—make the animals sweat for their supper.

Scientists found that in many zoos, big cats were being fed eggs, milk, liver and chicken, which is not their natural diet. This was increasing their weight besides causing tooth decay and weak bones. Delhi, Jaipur and Mumbai zoos were the worst offenders.

The guidelines suggest that tigers and lions should be fed muscle meat as chewing on bones would prevent metabolic bone diseases. To improve vitamin deficiency, supplements of Vitamin A and D were prescribed.

To get zoo inmates from flab to fit, scientists felt the animals should be made to work out for their food. Some of the innovative ideas included keeping the food in gunny bags suspended from the ceiling of the enclosure with a rope, so that the animals had to jump to get them.  

To make sure that a calorie count was maintained, the guidelines proposed diet charts for each inmate, and regular monitoring of body conditions. Any deviation from ideal weight would call for food serving to be adjusted. To ensure hygiene, the suggestion was to freeze the meat and then thaw it before feeding to reduce parasitic and microbial infection.

A strict eye is to be kept on elephants and rhinoceros, who are prone to obesity. It was found that they were being fed fruits and vegetables which were not nutritionally important instead of grasses which should be the main component.   

For feeding omnivores like monkeys and langurs, it was out with soft and cut fruits and in with the hard. Raw tubers would replace bread. Nuts and seeds were strictly rare treats. But that did not mean a boring diet, emphasis was on variety.

Speaking about the importance of standardised diets, B S Bonal, Member Secretary, CZA said most zoos have been feeding their animals empirically on the basis of experience of keepers.

“There are large variations in the amount and the type of food being offered to an animal species in different zoos and reproductive performance is not often up to expectation. It was felt that better nutrition is not only required to improve reproduction, health and longevity, but also reduce stress and boredom in zoo animals,” he added.   

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