Taronga Zoo’s echidnas have begun lapping up a new just-add-water diet, designed to better meet the nutritional needs of their spiny species.
Replacing the meat-based gruel diet of old, the just-add-water mix was developed by Taronga’s nutritionist and it has already received the ‘lick’ of approval from the Zoo’s most prickly food critics.
“The echidnas seem to love it and we’re already seeing the benefits. They’re all maintaining their weight nicely, their activity levels are high and they all have shiny, healthy coats,” said Taronga Nutritionist, Michelle Shaw.
Michelle said echidnas, which feed primarily on ants and termites in the wild, had one of the most challenging diets to replicate in human care.
“It’s hard to replicate an insect, so it’s always been notoriously difficult to design an insectivore diet that’s both palatable and in a form that echidnas will eat,” she said.
“The traditional gruel diets are difficult and time-consuming to prepare and don’t always meet the nutritional needs of the echidnas. Whereas this new diet takes just two minutes to mix up and contains all the vitamins and minerals that we know our echidnas require.”
Taronga Zoo is home to 21 Short-beaked Echidnas, many of which were orphaned or injured in the wild and brought to Taronga Wildlife Hospital.
Michelle said the new diet would also make life easier for those echidnas with injuries to their beaks and tongues.
“One of the problems with the old diet was it would often contain chunks of meat that were difficult for echidnas to eat if they had injuries to their beaks. The new diet can be mixed to any consistency you like, so you can make a really fine mix for echidnas that have trouble lapping up their food.”
The only dedicated zoo nutritionist in Australasia and one of only 30 worldwide, Michelle will next begin researching ways in which the just-add-water diet can be modified to suit other species, including lizards and other insect-eating marsupials.
Taronga Zoo prepares food daily for more than 3500 animals, from ants to elephants.