Nutrition of “wild” animals in captivity
The nutrition of wild animals in captivity represents an incredible challenge. There are hundreds of species to consider, each of them represents millions of years of evolution and adaptation to their particular ecological niches.
For a long time the nutrition has been one of the most neglected aspects in the management of wild animals in captivity. Fortunately nowadays the improvement is substantial. Wisbroek is proud to participate actively in this. The development of high quality extruded pellets is without any doubt a milestone when we talk about nutrition of wild animals under human care.
The goal of nutrition programs in zoos/breeding centers is to provide adequate diets to all the animals in the collection. Today these institutions should be committed to the conservation and reproduction of threatened species, so we have to know how to develop appropriate diets to meet all physiological (growth, reproduction…) as well as psychological needs, while economic conditions are valued.
When preparing a diet, we must take into account a number of factors:
1. Food habits in the wild: In the wild, the acquisition of food occupies most of the time, since the spatial and temporal distribution of the food is usually very complex, which is not even constant throughout the year, neither in quantity nor in quality. A fact that may be important is the time the animal spend taking this or that food, to get an idea of their dietary preferences.
2. Anatomy and physiology of the digestive system: The lips, the dentition, (if present) polycavitary or monocavitary stomachs, the type of beak etc., usually give a lot of information about their natural diet. Although there are exceptions such as the Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens). With teeth designed to tear more than to grind, with a mouth unable to chew in circles and a simple digestive system and without fermentation chambers; he has an exclusive diet of bamboo. This, which today seems obvious, cost the lives of many captive pandas and they were fed diets typical of faunivorous carnivores many years ago.
3. Bibliographic data: There is a lot of data reviewed and supported in laboratory analysis, and we already started to have a lot of published information available to anyone.
4. Needs of similar species (domestic or not) whose requirements are known: Domestic animals can serve as a model to match the requirements of a specie that we do not know this about. Ex: By knowing the structure of the digestive system of an elephant we realize that it is very similar to the digestive system of a horse, so it is possible that their requirements are similar in some approximate way too.
5. Structure of the facility where the animal lives in captivity and feeding behavior: Important to know if the animal is able to develop its feeding behavior in a normal way. This includes not only the feeding but in covering all the biological needs of the species. It would be absurd to make a perfect diet for giraffes and put it in a feeder at ground level! Feeding an individual animal with a strong hierarchical family group is therefore not the same as feeding different groups that share facilities.
6. Specific data of each animal or group of animals: It is important to know if they are young or already mature.
With all this information we are ready to start giving an optimal diet to our animals!
We have to say that many animals can survive or adapt to deficient diets for long periods, until there are extra metabolic efforts such as growth, reproduction, disease, fight for territory, adaptation to new environments, etc. Therefore it is not permitted to think that with keeping a living and apparently healthy animal is being fed satisfactorily.
A bad diet can go unnoticed if it is not very severe. The first symptoms can be very ambiguous and not very specific. These tend to be highly susceptible to infections and digestive processes, low fertility, low neonatal viability, thin animals, apathetic, bad hair/feathers and growth retardation.
Now that we know what the general process of developing diets is, we want to emphasize that it is also our goal to provide each animal with a way to develop its own eating behavior, while we have the obligation to ensure that all of them, even the most subordinate of the group, receive their daily ration.
The physical form of food can greatly influence aspects such as ease of storage, transport, stability against decomposition-oxidation but also in palatability, digestive function, eating behavior, etc.
Not only do you have to prepare a balanced diet with nutrients, but you have to present it to the animals in such a way that they take advantage of it in an optimal way. It is also important to know what the habits of our animals are, which may be different from others of the same species in other places!
For many animals it is better to give small meals several times a day, in order to stimulate them or because their way of eating is to eat everything we prepare, whether they like it or not, that is, palatable or not. Or to avoid accumulations of unused food. On the contrary, many others need only one meal at a certain time of the day. And for others it is important to distribute the food at several points so that the dominance of certain animals does not prevent everyone from having access to the food.
I also want to include a small section about the change of diets. This is a critical moment in the life of an animal. Just as domestic livestock have a peak of losses at this time in their lives, wild animals in captivity are very susceptible to developing pathological digestive processes and infectious diseases when they change their diet abruptly.
It must be done gradually, especially in the case of animals that depend heavily on their intestinal flora to obtain a large amount of nutrients. You have to adapt it little by little. The process can last days, weeks or even months. We have to check if the animal eats, if it eats the new diet or if it shows signs of illness or malnutrition.
One way to see this is to isolate the animal and follow it individually. This may or may not work, since isolation, by itself, can be a sufficient stress factor for the animal to stop eating.
As far as possible, dietary changes should be avoided during times of stress or excitement or in times where an extra contribution of nutrients is necessary.
Finally, it is very important to always be interested in their previous diet when sending or receiving new animals. And we must also share this information, even if it is not required.
During the development of the Wisbroek feeds, we conducted extensive research and always included the above aspects. All Wisbroek feeds have been developed with the idea to imitate the natural diet of the birds as well as possible and to cover all nutritional needs. We focus on diversity, as many different raw materials as possible are used, which are combined in an extruded pellet containing all necessary nutrients, resulting in a balanced diet.
If you have any further questions, we would be happy to advise you. Please contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tiago Nabiço – Manager Operations Wisbroek Research & Development Center