Many plants can be safely fed to zoo animals, and for some browser species like black rhinoceros, the feeding of browse items is paramount to keeping the animals happy and healthy.
When it comes to herbivores (“plant-eaters”), there are two general types: “grazers” (like a domestic cow) who graze on fields at ground level, and “browsers” (like a black rhino) who browse on various foliage of shrubs and trees. Some like our bongos are a mix between “grazers” and “browsers.”
“Browse” is defined as “plant material for consumption or enrichment that is cut and carried to animals for feeding.” Browse is a crucial element in some of our animal’s diets and it’s also a great enrichment item that promotes natural foraging behaviors. The animals stay busy and healthy by nibbling on leaves, stripping off bark, and chewing up stems.
However, with so many plants that look similar, it can be difficult to properly identify which plants are safe for the animals. The Potter Park Zoo animal care staff undergo training on the identification of safe browse plants and toxic plants. Created by the zoo veterinary department with help from the animal care staff, the zoo has a browse policy on what plants are safe to be fed to zoo animals.
In addition, the zoo has a long standing relationship with Dr. Peter Carrington from MSU Beal Botanical Garden to help provide advice on all things botanical.
MSU Beal Botanical Garden curator Dr. Peter Carrington recently came to the zoo to give a toxic plant walking presentation for animal care staff at the zoo. Dr. Carrington is a world expert in toxic plants and he frequently visits the zoo to teach the animal care staff about toxic plants.
These educational walks help train the staff to identify toxic plants so plants can be removed before the animals at the zoos can ingest them and to help identify plants that are safe to be fed for browse.
One of the zoos challenges is providing sufficient amounts of browse, if you have an interest in donating browse plants to the zoo, check out our Browse Program page on our website for all the details, including FAQs, a list of approved plant material, and contact information.
Do you have fresh browse to donate?
Click here to go to our Fresh Browse Donation Page on the website!