Brookfield Zoo animals munch on ComEd tree trimmings

The African spur thigh tortoise enjoy their browse (Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society.)

October 5, 2011 4:48:32 AM PDT
Fresh leaves and twigs -- Brookfield Zoo calls it ''browse.'' The animals call it delicious.

And there's never been more of the healthy treat than there is now at the zoo because Commonwealth Edison is helping to give the animals a better diet. Com Ed trims about one million trees every year. Almost all of it is chipped and used for mulch. But now, for the last two months, ComEd has been bringing two truckloads of browse to the zoo every week.

"We have foresters on our staff that identify tree species that the zoo is interested in. We have a list of them worked out. We separate that in the field and we gather it the day before we bring it to the zoo," Craig Chesley, manager, ComEd vegetation management, said.

The wild African dogs don't really eat the browse, but they play with it like puppies after a bone. The kangaroos love the stuff, since they are used to eating hay and straw, which is usually what is on the menu. This is like a health food salad bar.

"It's the best thing we can offer our animals in terms of a natural diet item that they would normally eat in the wild. It's fresh leaves," Jennifer Watts, Brookfield Zoo nutritionist, said.

So there's no doubt it's good for the animal's physical health, but there's the possibility it's also good for the mental health of these creatures who have been eating like this for eons.

"This is exactly what they'd be doing in the wild so that's why this program is so important and fantastic for our animals," Watts said.

It's really the ultimate recycling story: There are trees. They are trimmed. The browse is brought to the zoo. The animals eat it. That turns into manure and that is used as fertilizer for the flowers and landscaping. This is a green story.

"It is. We're very big on our conservation efforts and recycling and this is nature's recycling," Watts said.

By the way, the leaves and twigs are also good at removing plaque from the teeth.

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