Expert cooks up tasty zoo cook book
At this time of year book shops are crammed with the latest offerings from celebrity chefs but there is one "cook book" which is not likely to feature at the local branch of WH Smith.
It was written by an animal nutritionist who has compiled a collection of "recipes" for every one of Chester Zoo's 7,000 residents, following a nine-year project.
The enormous task was carried out by Dr Andrea Fidgett, the only full-time zoo nutritionist in the UK, who has put together a "diet plan" to provide the best nutritional support for everything from stick insects to Sumatran tigers and corals to Asian elephants.
Dr Fidgett said: "Every animal has had a personalised diet designed for them - accounting for everything from their personal tastes, to how active they are, to their age and health.
"So it's a huge book - containing lots of information, such as the ingredients, quantities, nutritional values and where it comes from as well as how the recipe should be prepared and presented - and it's growing all the time.
"By looking closely at the nutrition of our animals, and getting it as good as we possibly can, means the animals are more likely to be healthy, happy and relaxed, and therefore much more likely to breed."
Learning about nutrition in zoo animals is still a relatively new science and the project is the first time such findings have been compiled for a UK zoo.
Dr Fidgett said: "It has been a big, big challenge. The likes of Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay might think that devising recipes for a 40-page cook book or producing covers for 20 tables in a restaurant is a tricky task. Try doing that for 7,000 animals across 400 different species from every corner of the world."
The book reveals that big cats such as lions and tigers have very similar dietary requirements to pet cats while giraffes have four-chambered stomachs, like cows. Giraffes must eat a high fibre diet such as hay, but including some "tasty" willow and poplar branches makes their mealtime much more interesting and is good for their teeth.
Between them, the animals at Chester Zoo get through more than 400 tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables a year. Animals such as tamarins, frogs and lizards eat more than one million locusts and crickets a year. Bali, the zoo's 23ft-long adult python, may only eat two or three times a year.