Denver Zoo struggles in pandemic to feed hungry animals | VailDaily.com
YOUR AD HERE »

Denver Zoo struggles in pandemic to feed hungry animals

Denver Zoo struggles in pandemic to feed hungry animals

David Zalubowski, The Associated Press
Two-year-old Cerah, a Sumattran orangutan, climbs onto a landing to get some food at the Denver Zoo in November. The zoo was closed nearly three months early in the pandemic, then imposed restrictions on crowd sizes since reopening to the public June 12. (David Zalubowski
AP)

Katrina Eschweiler has 3,000 hungry diners to satisfy every day of the year, an enviable client base for any eatery in these turbulent times. But they’re not your usual clientele.

They’re the year-round inhabitants of the Denver Zoo, and feeding more than 450 species is a painstaking, serious business. The coronavirus has made the task more daunting.

The zoo was closed nearly three months early in the pandemic, then imposed restrictions on crowd sizes since reopening to the public June 12. That has cut into profits and led the zoo to join other zoos around the country in turning to supporters asking for donations to cover the nearly $1 million annual food budget for the facility’s denizens.



The hay and vegetables for Groucho, a 12,000-pound Asian elephant, costs $76,000 a year.

“It costs us about $100,000 per day to operate the zoo, and $1 million per month on animal care alone. Although we’re open and welcoming guests to the zoo each day, we’re still facing a significant deficit,” said Bert Vescolani, president and CEO.



Over a year, the nutrition team will handle 400 tons of food, everything from frozen mice for raptors to fish from Newfoundland for the sea lions. Every day, the nutrition team members formulate, prepare and deliver hundreds of pounds of hay, meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, grain and other items to the animals, said Brian Aucone, the zoo’s senior vice president for animal sciences.

And like the trendiest of restaurants, the Denver Zoo feeds its charges as much locally sourced food as possible. Almost all of the meat for the carnivores comes from local producers, which employees say helps reduce the zoo’s carbon footprint and the need to store larger quantities.

Katrina Eschweiler, nutrition center manager at the Denver Zoo, prepares food boxes for the various denizens of the zoo in Denver in November. Cuts in profits has led the zoo to join other zoos around the country in turning to supporters asking for donations to cover the nearly $1 million annual food budget for the facility’s denizens. (David Zalubowski
AP)
Groucho, a soon-to-be 51-year-old Asian elephant, holds an apple in his trunk as keepers offer an afternoon repast of celery, carrots and apples at the Denver Zoo on Dec. 7. The hay and vegetables for Groucho, a 12,000-pound Asian elephant, costs $76,000 a year. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Taji, a clouded leopard at the Denver Zoo, looks for his keeper, Kelsey Eggers, for a shot of milk from a spray bottle in November. The zoo has more than 450 species of animals, which costs almost $1 million a year to feed. (David Zalubowski
AP)
Keeper Amanda Faliano takes care of bactrian camels named Hagrid, left, and Sprout on Nov. 5 in Denver. The Denver Zoo feeds its animals as much locally sourced food as possible. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Support Local Journalism