Twice a week, animals at the Brookfield Zoo feast on leafy branches courtesy of ComEd. The utility donates tons of tree trimmings, cut down to minimize power outages-as part of a three-year partnership with the zoo. The rough brush cleans teeth and revs intestines of the animals, says nutrition director Jennifer Watts.
“Grabs it like a baby,” said senior keeper Dawn Sohr, slinging another mulberry branch into the gorilla pit.
Joe-Joe, the male silverback, snatches it out of midair as easily as the first. Then he proceeds to strip it of leaf, bud and bark.
“They are loving the stuff,” said Sohr.
Leafy branches are often a rare treat for animals at the Brookfield Zoo. But the zoo has teamed up with utility ComEd to provide gorillas, giraffes, camels and rhinos with tasty tree trimmings twice a week.
To launch the picnic season, zookeepers on May 21 made the rounds to the different animals while hundreds of local schoolchildren gathered to watch. A few tons of trimmings proved to be a much-anticipated addition to a diet of grains and hay. The zoo’s two molting camels ripped them clean, while a young giraffe calf lunged for his first taste of something green.
“They’ll eat every part of it,” said Watts, leaning against an enclave where a molting camel was worrying a branch like a dog with a bone.
Watts estimates that the zoo saves several thousand dollars’ worth in hay by serving the leftover trimmings. ComEd’s remaining leftovers are recycled into mulch. The utility trims trees back from power lines across 9,000 miles of northern Illinois.
Last week marked ComEd’s first delivery of trimmings this year. The company will return with more twice a week through September. Among the animals whose diets benefit from the tree trimmings are including giraffes, gorillas and other primates, grizzly bears, kangaroos, okapi, rhinoceroses, camels, rock hyraxes, and tapirs, according to Sondra Katzen, spokeswoman for the zoo.
While the greens may not be particularly nutritious, rough brush cleans teeth and helps with digestion, Watts said. To reuse more trees, she says the zoo is developing ways to freeze trimmings, and that includes making a mixture of fermented tree that could potentially be served year round.
But the animals’ indiscriminate excitement doesn’t last long, said Watts.
“They get kind of snobby after a while,” she said. “I like to tell people I feed 3,000 toddlers.”