Gift of Grub: Feeding the Carnivore Crowd

4:45 AM.  There is an annoying drone of music coming from my bedside stand.  The alarm has signaled that it is time to get up and head into work.  I drop my daughter at daycare and arrive at the zoo by 6:50 AM to start work by 7:00 AM. My day begins like many other keepers’ days.  I often find myself scarfing down breakfast during the morning meeting and then walking to the Carnivore buildings to start feeding the animals.

The Carnivore department encompasses a variety of shapes, sizes, and diets.  The lions and tigers are served raw meat while the wolves and bears receive omnivore diets.  The commissary staff arrives at the zoo even earlier than I do in the morning in order to have all of our diets delivered before 7:00 AM.

The carnivore kitchen becomes crowded as each keeper sidles in to sort through the containers and seize those belonging to the section they are working that day.

Dedicated keepers are up early, working in close quarters to prepare each animal's meal

The two keepers elbowing each other at the counter are most likely the wolf keeper, who needs to chop the fruit small so the wolves will eat it, and the tiger keeper, who is sorting meat for the 13 animals residing in the Tiger Building.

Pandu, the tiger, gets a little grumpy if his breakfast is late.  He receives 7 lbs. of meat a day, except for Thursdays when he receives large bones.

Each diet is weighed according to a specific animal's needs

I often use his meat for an early morning training session and will sometimes save a little portion for a late afternoon treat.  He always seems to know if I am holding a little back and will sometimes vocalize as if to tell me he is onto me.

Both fossa receive thawed rats on Thursdays and Saturdays.  There are times when keepers can hear Hansel, the fossa, on the other end of the building as he vocalizes to everyone who will listen about his rat.  Cleaning holding on those days is often fun as he inevitably leaves behind treats, such as rat body parts, for us to find.  Though the lions, tigers, and bears do not care for rats, our other animals appear to look forward to “rat days” and consume 24 rats a week.

The fossa says: "Where's my snack?"

Our carnivores are all trained to step up onto a scale at least once a month to be weighed.  Each animal is assigned a target weight range by our veterinarian staff and it is our job to keep them within that range.  If they are above or below that target, their diets are adjusted accordingly.

All in all, our carnivores go through over 84lbs of meat A DAY!  That’s about 336 quarter pound hamburgers!  And it adds up to over 30,000 lbs of meat a year.

Written by Samantha Junker, Carnivore Keeper

How much does it cost to feed your family for a year? At the Houston Zoo, our annual grocery bill adds up to more than $600,000! With a bill that big, imagine the impact that your support could have. Your gift might help purchase a tasty steak (or ten) for our tigers. Make your tax-deductible donation at or, click our our CONTRIBUTE tab on Facebook!

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