Antwerp Zoo adjusts lions’ diet: “Carcasses are good for their intestinal flora” (Antwerp)

Antwerp Zoo adjusts lions’ diet: “Carcasses are good for their intestinal flora” (Antwerp)
Antwerp Zoo adjusts lions’ diet: “Carcasses are good for their intestinal flora” (Antwerp)
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“In this way we stimulate their natural behavior and promote their health,” says nutritionist Roxanna van Riemsdijk. “Lions are social eaters and can go for days without food.”

Until now, Tasa and her young were served a portion of meat every day. In the indoor enclosure and everyone for themselves so that the caregivers knew that everyone was getting enough. From now on they eat in groups and are fed whole carcasses of rabbits, chickens and goats. The animal dietitian is very happy with this evolution.

“We have been working on this for two years,” she responds. “Not that there was anything wrong with the way the lions were fed, but we want even better. And that can be done this way. Lions are social hunters, in nature they can go for days without eating. When the opportunity arises, they hunt in groups for large prey that they enjoy for days. This approach challenges them to function as a group and provides a mental challenge. Furthermore, the group activity also strengthens the social relationships and hierarchy within the lion pride.”

“We treat the lions to about 20 every Tuesday, 50 every Thursday and 30 kilograms of meat every Sunday. That is certainly enough for everyone, not just for the most dominant animal”

Roxanna van Riemsdijk

Nutritionist

At the Antwerp Zoo, the pride consists of mother Tasa, her almost 3-year-old son Whisker and the cubs Xesar, Xira and Xabi. Whisker is the dominant lion and to prevent him from taking all the food, multiple prey are distributed over the entire enclosure. “We treat them to about 20 every Tuesday, 50 every Thursday and 30 kilograms of meat every Sunday. That’s certainly enough so that they all get enough. Not everything for the dominant Whisker, but not too little for the generous Tasa. There is a student who conducts behavioral research on the lions and continuously monitors the animals. When she notices that one of them is eating too little, she sounds the alarm. That hasn’t happened yet.”

With skin and hair

The fact that 50 kilograms are given on Thursday, a lot more than on the other days, is due to the fact that two fasting days follow on Friday and Saturday. After Tuesday and Sunday, that is only one day each. “The amount of meat per week remains the same,” says the nutrition expert. “We now provide more variety. In the past they mainly ate beef, but nowadays rabbits, goats and chickens are on the menu. In its entirety, including skin, hair, viscera, bones and beaks.”

The fact that they eat carcasses provides them with other nutrients. Each organ contains specific substances such as proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. “We used to have to supplement with vitamin preparations, the carcasses provide a balanced diet, which is good for their intestinal flora. They get that extra calcium and vitamins directly from their food. The liver of their prey contains vitamins A and D.”

From now on, the lions will receive complete carcasses. — © ZOO Antwerp/Jonas Verhulst

The public now witnesses the feedings. Even though it is confrontational for some to see the lions walking around with white goats and rabbits in their mouths, the majority of lion fans seem to enjoy the change. We hear reactions such as “that’s just how nature works”, about “the Circle of Life” to “they don’t eat sandwiches with chocolate”. The fact that they run after each other to steal each other’s prey creates a spectacle. “With well-founded communication and the right context, people will understand that,” confirms Zoo spokesperson Ilse Segers. “We have evolved in such a way that people no longer conceal the fact that predators eat prey.”

Carnivores

“We can hardly give them tofu, they are carnivores,” Roxanna also agrees. “It is very nice for the public to see. The lions really have to use their muscles to get their food. Competing with each other, jumping for the bungee, flexing their claws and training their jaw muscles to eat those carcasses. This also ensures that they keep moving and that we combat obesity, which is still the number one problem in zoos.”

“The lions need some time to build up resistance, because if they occasionally catch a pigeon, they have diarrhea for two days”

Roxanna van Riemsdijk

Nutritionist

“Together with the vet, we are now monitoring them to see how the new feeding method evolves. The lions need some time to build up resistance, because if they occasionally catch a pigeon, they have diarrhea for two days. Hopefully we will soon notice that they digest whole carcasses without any problems and that their health and social interaction will only improve.”

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Antwerp Zoo adjusts lions diet Carcasses good intestinal flora Antwerp

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