At 8 every morning, the macaw enclosures at the Alipore Zoological Garden erupt with screeches. That’s the signal that the 50 odd birds in the enclosures are hungry and expecting a handler to appear with a basket full of feed. He soon does, with baskets loaded with a mix of fresh fruits and dry fruits like walnut and chestnut. Though the quantity varies, depending on a bird’s size and body weight, on an average, each bird is served food worth around Rs 300 every day. Sounds lavish right? Well, the macaws are not the only ones to enjoy such a lavish diet at the zoo. As all animals are fed in keeping with Central Zoo Authorities of India guidelines, the average daily food bill of several zoo inmates exceeds what we pay for a meal at a decent restaurant.
Expenditure on food
Each of the eight Royal Bengal tigers at the zoo is fed seven to eight kilos of meat every day, six days a week. They are made to fast on the seventh day. This costs the zoo around Rs 1,500 a day. Their diet is also supplemented with calcium, vitamins and other medicines, which increases the cost even further. Same is the case with three lions, which are fed around eight kilos of buffalo meat on four days, chicken on two days and then made to fast for a day.
“To maintain their body weight, big cats must eat a certain amount of meat every day. Even a day’s fasting is equally important for them to stay healthy. Moreover, we always measure the nutrition level in their food,” Asis Kumar Samanta, director of the zoo, told us, adding that the food bill of the big cats is higher than all others.
In comparison, he said the two jaguars at the zoo consume about four to five kilos of meat each, six days a week, because of their lower body weight. So, their food bill comes second at around Rs 700-Rs 800 a day.
When it comes to the chimpanzees, it’s a completely different story. Not only do they consume food worth around Rs 500 every day, but also have a varied menu. According to Samanta, the chimps start their day with milk and bread, followed by dry fruits. In the afternoon, they eat fresh fruits like grapes, apples, bananas, and pomegranates, followed by milk and bread in the evening. “They are extremely sensitive when it comes to food. If the schedule gets disturbed even slightly, they get offended. So, we have to take extra care that the schedule is maintained,” Samanta added.
As for the 25 crocodiles in the zoo, the diet purely comprises fish. They are fed about six to seven kilos of fish three days a week. According to the zoo authorities, they are fed only the best quality Rohu and carp varieties, so the effective cost for each day they are fed comes to around Rs 400.
Large quantities don’t translate into a fat bill
There are several animal species that consume a large amount of food. But that doesn’t mean the food bill is high. Each of the elephants at the zoo, for instance, consume around 100 to 130 kilos of food every day. But their diet mostly includes grass, roots, and leaves, so the food bill is minuscule. Similarly, a hippopotamus, too, consumes around 40 to 70 kilos of grass, leaves, and vegetables each day. “Just because their diet is so simple, we don’t have to spend much on their food,” Samanta said.
Why is a special diet important?
According to the vets at the zoo, it’s not possible to feed captive animals their diet in the wild. The lions, for instance, have to make do with buffalo meat. “So, we analyse each animal’s diet from its native habitat to find the vitamin and mineral content and then we try to come up with a replacement with the same properties,” a vet told us. In the buffalo meat fed to the lions, a large amount of calcium is added to make up for the bones they eat in the wild. Large bones are fed to the big cats, but these are mainly meant to help keep their teeth clean. “Over and above this, some animals coming from the wild or other zoos have to be trained to eat food they’re not used to. That can take a while,” added the vet.