PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Feeding the animals at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is no easy task. It takes a team of hardworking people.
At the zoo, the days start quiet and peaceful in the exhibits, but there is plenty of action happening behind the scenes. The commissary is always buzzing with activity.
“It’s not a hard job, but very busy. It keeps you going the whole day,” said Calvin Andrews.
Andrews, who helps keep the kitchen running, doesn’t mind the hustle and bustle. He worked as a Pennsylvania State Trooper for a little more than more 27 years. He retired and two days later, started at the zoo.
“As a boy, I always loved being around animals and I always thought I would work in the zoo one day and the opportunity came about and I took advantage,” said Andrews.
Calvin and his crew are the first ones in in the morning. They start their day at 6 a.m. before the gates open. First, they prepare the food for more than 200 animals. Every diet is different depending on the type, size, and age of the animal.
A lot of the animals eat the food we eat. They consume tons of produce, fish, and even hardboiled eggs. For the staff, it’s not just knowing which foods to prepare, it’s knowing how to prepare them.
“We could chew on a hard sweet potato all day, but it would be rough on our teeth, it’s the same with the animals. If it’s an older, aging animal and it needs a softer diet, we’ll provide the cooked sweet potato or the cooked carrot,” said Andrews.
Once the food is ready, it’s delivery time. KDKA-TV’s Sarah Arbogast went along for the ride to the lion exhibit. The lions eat a beef blend twice a day. Eight-year-old Ajani has developed a taste for some other foods that may surprise you. He loves Gerber’s chicken and gravy baby food.
“For an extra special treat, salmon, they do like fish. For an even bigger treat, canned cat food,” said Kathy Suthard, Lead Mammal Keeper at the Pittsburgh Zoo.
It’s all fish on the menu for the sea lions. Seahawk, an 800-pound sea lion, gets 30 pounds of fish a day.
However, the sea otters cost the most to feed.
“We give them restaurant quality seafood and it costs over $40,000 a year to feed two animals and that’s pretty incredible,” said Henry Kacprzyk, Curator of Kids Kingdom & Reptiles.
In all, the zoo dishes out close to $500,000 a year in food. That includes what the staff calls “enrichment” items like Cheerios and hot sauce, which are used for training. There is always Gatorade and juice on the shelves in case an animal isn’t feeling well.
There is a lot to keep in mind when it comes to keeping all the animals fed and happy.
“Some animals, although it’s the right food for them, just like a kid they may not eat it, so you can say this is what they’re supposed to eat, but they’ll pick through it and leave certain items and we try to adjust the diets related to that,” said Kacprzyk.