Zoo Nutrition Services

The Chicago Zoological Society is one of the few zoological organizations in the world with professional nutritionists on staff. There are less than 20 zoo nutritionists in the United States, many of whom interned or received training at Brookfield Zoo. The ultimate goal of our nutrition program is to help provide nutritional diets to keep zoo animals around the world healthy.

There is a direct relationship between the nutritional status of an animal and its diet. But studies of free-ranging animals rarely provide data on the quantity of food consumed or the nutrient content of those food items. It is therefore important to compare the nutritional status of captive and free-ranging animals since captive animals have known, quantified food and nutrient intake. Analyses of nutritional data may be used to refine or change an animal’s diet, or they may simply confirm that the animal’s nutrient needs are sufficiently met.

Animals require as many as 64 nutrients to maintain optimal health. High nutrient levels in the body may indicate potential disease or excesses in dietary nutrients. Low nutrient levels in the body may indicate disease, deficiencies in available nutrients, or a malabsorption syndrome. To assess the nutritional health of animals, researchers need to determine the normal values for captive and free-ranging animals. But what is normal? Are zoo animals normal? Are free-ranging animals that are exposed to the harsh conditions of their environment—including fire, drought, and deforestation—normal? Understanding nutritional status is vital to efforts to successfully conserve and propagate animal populations, in the wild and in captivity.

Located in the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Conservation Biology and Research Center at Brookfield Zoo, Zoo Nutrition Services staff serve as members of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association Nutritional Advisory Group, a scientific body that helps bring the results of research to the attention of other institutions. They also work closely with the Comparative Nutritionist Society (CNS), comprising representatives from universities, government agencies, agricultural industries, and others. Through their networking activities, research efforts, and information sharing, Zoo Nutrition Services helps zoos and aquariums around the world ensure the best health of the animals in their care.