What is browse? Is it looking at a magazine while you’re at the doctor’s office? Or trying to find something on the internet? Well, no, when we talk about browse in the zoo we’re talking about plants and vegetation. The definition of browse at the zoo is: fresh plants that are given to an animal for food and enrichment as a replacement for some of their wild food sources.
There is a wide range of browse that we can use here in Houston. Due to our semi-tropical climate we are able to grow all kinds of browse. Even some that may grow amongst our animal’s natural homes in Africa, Asia, or South America!
There are some great advantages and a few disadvantages in giving primates browse. But with proper inspection, and dedicated keepers to make sure their animals are safe, the disadvantages basically disappear. Browse is used mainly to promote behavioral enrichment. This just means that the animal is exhibiting behavior that they would in the wild. It can also add to the animals’ nutrition, providing fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. Sometimes you may even see some of our young primates just playing with leftover browse that mom and dad have left behind.
Some disadvantages may be potential toxins that are in the plant. This is where zookeepers and horticulturists work hand in hand. Our horticulture staff will bring zookeepers browse that they know is non-toxic. They know what part of the plants the animals can and cannot have. Some of our browse has to be cut a certain way to make sure the animals don’t get part of the plants that they shouldn’t. It is very important not to feed animals’ random plants because unless you are an expert like out horticulture staff, as it may be deadly for our animals. Zookeepers always check with them before we feed it to our animals.
There are thousands upon thousands of plants out there in this world. Some are edible and some are not. Some are sweet and some are bitter. Our animals all have their favorite types of browse, and of course least favorite. For instance, our gorillas love to eat willow branches. Our mandrills do not like to eat ginger, but occasionally one will tear into it. Our sifaka love to eat rose petals.
Overall, browse is an important part of an animal’s life at the zoo. It has so many uses, and there are so many types for our animals to choose from. None of this would go as smoothly as it does if it weren’t for the horticulture team here. So, whenever you see one of them out and about planting more browse for our animals, give them a big thank you!