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Picky Eaters? We’ve Got Them, Too!

Bill the lion may have a big appetite, but that doesn’t mean he’ll eat anything!  According to African Journey Area Director Amber Eagleson,  Bill’s reluctance to accept dietary change lead to his reputation as a “picky eater”.  

“All our big cats eat a commercial ground-meat diet we purchase by the ton.  Whenever we switch meat companies, Bill is always the last to comply.  We find it ironic since he eats the largest amount of meat in the entire zoo!” states Eagleson.  

Fortunately for Bill, who consumes approximately eight pounds of meat each day, the zoo changes animal diets only a supplier cannot meet the necessary nutritional requirements.  To ease the transition to a new diet, Eagleson explains that “For most carnivores, we will mix 75% of the meat they are accustomed to with 25% of the new meat for a week and then go to 50:50 and then 25:75.  Almost always, it is no big deal for the animal.  However, Bill has given us problems almost every time.”  

What’s a zoo keeper to do?  In the case of Bill “The Picky Eater” Lion, the transition starts at 95% new to 5% old and proceeds gradually from there.

In the Indonesian Rain Forest, the term “picky eating” takes on a different definition.  Melati, Tengku, and Tara, the zoo’s Sumatran orangutans, approach their lunch very carefully.   They reach inside of pumpkins and carefully pluck out seeds one at a time.   The orangutans then shell and eat each pumpkin seed until the last one is gone.  According to Tanisha Dunbar, Area Director for the Indonesian Rainforest, Melati approaches the task so precisely that she finishes every last seed “without breaking a single one.”  

Dunbar also points out that, “Melati can peel grapes without breaking them.”  How’s that for “picky eating”?

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Did You Help Us Change the World in 2013?

If you visited the Kids4Nature Kiosk this summer, then you sure did!  With your help, we directed $80,000 to the zoo’s Conservation Programs.  More than 180,000 zoo guests voted by releasing a metal washer into one of three coin funnels this season.   

So who won?

  • African Lions got 43% of the votes 
  • Javan Gibbons earned 34%
  • Sandhill Cranes secured 23%
Every vote counts!

Every vote counts!

We will soon send more than $80,000 to these and other organizations to support their conservation work.  By voting at the Kids4Nature Kiosk, making donations, and rounding up  at the Wild Things Gift Shop,  you’ve helped us to protect animals and their habitats.  Thank you to everyone who got involved.  Together we’re changing the world!

For a complete listing of the Zoo’s conservation commitments, click here.

Click on a photo of one of this year’s featured projects to enlarge:

How to Make a Lion Eat His Dinner

Bill the lion needs no introduction.  His laid-back attitude and stunning physique make him a crowd favorite.  Thanks to his penchant for resting on the exhibit window, he’s in thousands of family photos.  Could he be any more of a superstar?

“I think Bill just enjoys being awesome,” says zoo keeper Jennifer McDermott. 

Bill was only two years old with a scruffy little mane when he debuted at the African Journey’s grand opening in 2009.  As he prepares to celebrate his 7th birthday on July 22, he has matured into a beautiful 435-pound adult male lion.

But amid all the hype, Bill has a few bad habits.  According to McDermott, “Bill is the pickiest eater I’ve ever seen.”

Because lions eat only one thing – meat – this can be a problem.  The zoo buys a frozen prepared meat diet (similar to a tube of ground beef) by the ton.  When a new batch of meat arrives, keepers know that Bill will snub his finicky nose at it, at least for the first few days.

“He makes what I call a ‘yuck’ face, like a little kid,” says McDermott.  “He’ll scrunch up his eyes, stick out his tongue, and walk away from his food.”  In lion-speak, this apparently means “I don’t wanna eat this, and you can’t make me!”

McDermott doesn’t worry about Bill’s diva-like attitude regarding his dinner.  “He eventually eats it,” she says. 

Unlike Bill, Ina the lioness is very interested in her food.  When McDermott calls the cats to dinner at the end of the day, Ina makes a beeline for the meat placed in their night quarters.  Bill, on the other hand, takes his sweet time.  “We just wait him out,” says McDermott.  When he does decide to come inside, “He walks very slowly,” she says. 

Bad habits aside, McDermott is in awe of Bill.  “I love looking into his eyes,” she says.  “He’s just beautiful.”

Read more about lions here.

You can help feed the lions at a VIP Experience.

Click the photos below to enlarge.

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