By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4) – Staff at the Denver Zoo spends each morning preparing food for more than 3,000 animals living on the grounds. They have to take into consideration the nutritional needs and dietary restrictions for each species.

(credit: CBS)

The daily feedings are one of the many procedures that happen before guests ever arrive. They also take place behind the scenes while guests visit.

“It takes a lot of thought, and a lot of effort and a lot of experience to get it right, even for domestic animals,” said Jason Williams, the nutrition director at the Denver Zoo. “I love it, I look at what I do everyday and even 20 years in, I still pinch myself.”

Williams says along with a nutrition manager he decides what goes in the diets while she handles the logistics of bringing in the food and making sure they have enough. The zoo spends $1 million on food each year for its animals. It must consider where the species come from, what is in season and if any medical conditions might impact their diet.

(credit: CBS)

“We do try to mimic as closely as we can what their nutrient profile would be in the wild,” he told CBS4 on Wednesday. “It’s tough job, it’s a challenging job, and it’s important job. And getting nutrition right for each and every species is incredibly important to their overall animal health.”

Williams creates diet sheets for every animal. He says there is a lot of math involved, and the range of animals include Asian elephants to porcupines. The work he and others do help to create a bond with animals that the staff love and care for each day.

“I hope our guests know that when they see their animals enjoy enrichment as food or just seeing the eat their diet, that they’re watching the hard work of everyone at the Zoo,” said Carlie McGuire, the public relations coordinator for the zoo.

The Denver Zoo was closed for 87 days but the keepers, nutritionists, and veterinarians remained at work the entire time.  During the shutdown, the nonprofit was unable to earn the revenue they depend on from visitors.

When you include the operating expense and the income they were unable to make at that time, the Denver Zoo is losing $1 million a month.

“ZOOtrition” is a campaign to help people support the Denver Zoo while measuring the food they could provide to an animal for a period of time, like the hay for an elephant to eat in one week. While the organization collects donations all year, they hope the public will continue to contribute to their work during Giving Tuesday and Colorado Gives Day in December.

Williams says the work they do is complex and tough but important to the overall health of the animals. He wants guests to know how intricate the process is for all involved.

“If you’re able to do that, it really gives you a sense of accomplishment because you’ve made that animal’s life better,” he said. “It’s a big responsibility but it’s rewarding in ways I probably can’t put in words.”

For more information about the campaign, and to donate, visit denverzoo.org/support/.

Shawn Chitnis