Brookfield Zoo Chicago is one of a few zoological organizations in the world with a professional nutritionist on staff. There are less than 30 zoo nutritionists in the United States. The ultimate goal of our nutrition program is to help provide nutritional diets to keep zoo animals around the world healthy.

There is a direct relationship between the nutritional status of an animal and its diet. But studies of free-ranging animals rarely provide data on the quantity of food consumed or the nutrient content of those food items. It is important to compare the nutritional status of captive and free-ranging animals since captive animals have known, quantified food and nutrient intake. Animals require as many as 64 nutrients to maintain optimal health. High nutrient levels in the body may indicate potential disease or excesses in dietary nutrients. Low nutrient levels in the body may indicate disease, deficiencies in available nutrients, or a malabsorption syndrome.

Designing and preparing diets for almost 3,000 animals is challenging.  We have limited food resources available to feed the animals, so finding the right combination of complete feed and variety, while meeting each animal’s specific nutritional needs, is the goal.  Each animal is an individual; physiological status, social structure, management needs, and taste preferences all play a role in formulating the best diet.

Zoo Nutrition Services staff serve as leaders in the American Zoo and Aquarium Association Nutritional Advisory Group, a scientific body that helps bring the results of research to the attention of other institutions. They also work closely with the Comparative Nutritionist Society (CNS), comprising representatives from universities, government agencies, agricultural industries, and others. Through their networking activities, research efforts, and information sharing, Zoo Nutrition Services helps zoos and aquariums around the world ensure the best health of the animals in their care.