For other zoos, get­ting bam­boo presents unique chal­lenge

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - BY MERED­ITH SOMERS

Only four U.S. zoos house the en­dan­gered gi­ant pan­das na­tive to China. And while all four are tasked with procur­ing bam­boo for their pan­das, each has a unique job to ful­fill.

“We’re very lucky. We have both a very large zoo and very large sa­fari park,” San Diego Zoo spokes­woman Christina Sim­mons said.

That’s for­tu­nate for the West Coast zoo, which is home to four gi­ant pan­das.

Along with a 100-acre zoo, the sa­fari park boasts 1,800 acres of space.

“We have quite a bit of acreage set aside for us to grow ‘browse’ — liv­ing plants used to feed an­i­mals,” she said.

Among the browse is bam­boo for the zoo’s four gi­ant pan­das and eu­ca­lyp­tus for the koalas.

“We have a great cli­mate and those things grow well here, year round,” Ms. Sim­mons said. “We have acreage set aside to grow them and peo­ple whose job is to main­tain the farm and har­vest the plants.”

The Mem­phis Zoo in Ten­nessee has two adult gi­ant pan­das, but it also grows bam­boo for the Toronto Zoo, which wel­comed its two gi­ant pan­das ear­lier this year.

The Cana­dian cli­mate is not the best for grow­ing bam­boo, Mem­phis Zoo spokes­woman Laura Doty said. In hu­mid Mem­phis, “it keeps grow­ing. Our bam­boo crew, in ad­di­tion to cut­ting bam­boo for our pan­das, cuts bam­boo for the pan­das in Toronto.”

Ms. Doty said the zoo har­vests from bam­boo on its prop­erty, but a ma­jor­ity is taken from the “bam­boo farm” at the Agri­cen­ter In­ter­na­tional, a farm and re­search center in Mem­phis. About 10 acres there are used to grow bam­boo for the zoo.

“We have acres out in Mis­sis­sippi, but they don’t go there as of­ten be­cause it’s far­ther away,” Ms. Doty said.

For the Toronto pan­das, the bam­boo is cut, brought back to the Mem­phis Zoo and handed off to an overnight de­liv­ery com­pany with re­frig­er­ated trucks. It then is put on a plane and shipped across the bor­der.

“That hap­pens a cou­ple times a week,” Ms. Doty said. “You can’t re­ally stock up on it be­cause [the pan­das] like it fresh fresher the bet­ter. You can’t go out and stock­pile it for months in ad­vance. It’s a daily process.”

Ful­ton County Zoo in At­lanta wel­comed twin panda cubs in July, mark­ing its fourth and fifth cubs in seven years. Along with nur­tur­ing the tod­dlers, the zoo must also keep a steady sup­ply of bam­boo for its five adult gi­ant pan­das.

Rytis Dau­jo­tas, the man­ager of the an­i­mal nu­tri­tion kitchen, said the zoo has more than 500 har­vest­ing sites where about a dozen dif­fer­ent species of bam­boo grow — and there’s al­ways calls com­ing in for new do­na­tions.

“Var­i­ous types of bam­boo are har­vested Mon­day through Fri­day by a team of four bam­boo techs who hand pick each piece and har­vest with hand tools only,” Mr. Dau­jo­tas said.

He said the bam­boo is care­fully se­lected and the har­vest sites ro­tate through­out the year to en­sure suf­fi­cient re­gen­er­a­tion and a healthy crop that lasts. The species of bam­boo that the zoo’s pan­das do not eat are used to en­rich other an­i­mals’ di­ets.

“The bam­boo donor pro­gram has proved to be a suc­cess, elim­i­nat­ing the need to farm our own bam­boo,” Mr. Dau­jo­tas said.

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