November 9, 2020

Special Orders

Dietary Changes Can Majorly Impact an Animal’s Quality of Life—and Even Save It


Many of the species we care for at the Zoo possess highly specialized nutritional requirements, and we provide all of our animals balanced diets to keep them healthy, which is ultimately a foundation of keeping them happy. In some cases, we’ve adjusted the diets of many animals to drastically improve—and likely even save—their lives in advanced age or in the response to the development of serious health conditions. Here are just a few such examples:

Lisu, photo by zookeeper Erik Bowker
Lisu, photo by zookeeper Erik Bowker


Health Condition: In 2017, Lisu developed an allergy to meat, which is very rare and a serious problem for any obligate carnivore. She couldn’t keep any food down, had no energy and started losing weight.

Nutrition Solution: Her keepers and veterinarians recognized the problem quickly, then jumped into action to find a fix. They worked tirelessly through a tedious process of testing a variety of proteins to see what gave her an allergic reaction, and eventually discovered that she could eat venison—and ONLY venison—balanced with supplements. Today, Lisu is a healthy, thriving clouded leopard, and has regained her weight and energy.

Daily Diet: Lisu’s diet consists of ¾ to 1 pound of ground venison daily; the total quantity is separated in to multiple small meals throughout the day to limit stress on her stomach and intestines.

Annual Cost: $3,850


Lion Brothers


Health Condition: Our four African lion brothers, who came to Denver Zoo in 2016, developed gastritis (inflammation of the stomach). This led to intermittent nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite and low energy levels.

Nutrition Solution: We were able to control the lions’ condition with medications, but in 2019, Denver Zoo made a change to their diet, transitioning to a local source of high-quality beef for animal food. By working with a Colorado company, we were able to more closely monitor the quality and nutritional content of the meat. The switch to a higher-quality product made all the difference for the lion boys—their stomach problems have all improved substantially and they no longer show signs of their previous health problems. All carnivores at the Zoo are served the same quality of meat you would find on your grocery store shelves. As Nutrition Director Jason Williams puts it, “I could grind up the beef we serve our lions and tigers and make myself a delicious burger!”

Daily Diet: The lion diets are formulated using locally-sourced, high- and low-fat ground beef; a powdered supplement is mixed in to the meat by hand to balance for vitamins and minerals.

Annual Cost: $49,250 (total for all four)




Health Condition: Like people, many non-human primates are prone to diabetes. Saba, our 17-year-old mandrill, was diagnosed with diabetes after keepers noticed changes to her feces and urine. Diabetes is a condition that affects the way the body processes blood sugar, leading to big swings in glucose that, if unchecked, can cause infections, organ damage, neurologic impairment, and even death.

Nutrition Solution: After Saba’s diagnosis, the Zoo’s nutrition and veterinary medical teams worked together to change her diet and provide treatment to manage her diabetes. Just like people with diabetes, Saba gets insulin shots, which she takes voluntarily thanks to extensive training from her Animal Care team. In order to help keep her glucose levels stable Saba receives a modified diet that is limited in sugar and starch, and high in soluble fiber.

Daily Diet: Saba’s diet in comprised of a specially formulated diabetic primate gel in combination with low glycemic load vegetables and leaf lettuce.

Annual Cost: $1,880


Denver Zoo is still recovering from the financial impacts of COVID-19, and while we have cut expenses, we will not take shortcuts when it comes to our 3,000 animals’ health and happiness. Nutritious meals are vital to our animals’ health and we need your support to continue this level of care. To help provide individualized meals to our animals, please consider donating to help cover our $1 million grocery bill here: https://denverzoo.org/support/!


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