By Jessa Franck, Zookeeper extraordinaire (unofficial title)
At the Sacramento Zoo we have a section devoted to the Australian Outback. In addition to kookaburras and tawny frogmouths, there is a spacious exhibit home to four Red kangaroos, three emus, and two Bennett’s wallabies. This exhibit is cared for by Zookeepers from our hoofstock department. This category may make a person scratch their head, kangaroos in the same group as giraffes and bongos? Do kangaroos eat leaves? Like these animals, kangaroos and wallabies are herbivorous, eating mainly leaves and grass in the wild.
The kangaroos and wallabies are fed a base diet of alfalfa hay and pellets formulated for macropods, a word which refers to their foot structure. The emus get oyster shell for stronger eggshells and pellets formulated for ratites, a word for large, flightless birds that also includes ostriches.
But that’s just the regular stuff. Every morning a hoof stock keeper gets a tray of special treats out of the fridge. On it are two bowls of a small number of grapes for the emus. The male eats out of one bowl and the females share the other. The emus also regularly get a head of lettuce, which they enjoy pecking at and rolling around the yard. The kangaroos and wallabies get things like beets, carrots, broccoli, raisins, bananas, and apples in small amounts cut up into appropriate-sized pieces to be sprinkled over their pellets. They also get different greens like dandelion and romaine. Sometimes the keeper will take pieces of corn and sweet potato that have circular holes cut in them and hang them on a tree in the exhibit for the animals to nibble on. Browse, another name for leafy branches, is provided on a daily basis, too. Examples are rose of sharon, mulberry, photinia, and tea tree. There is a long list of non-toxic browse for the Zookeeper to choose from.
The kangaroos, wallabies, and emus know what is coming each morning and usually hop over right away to see what special treats are on the menu. This makes it easy to get a close-up look at the animals to check for health issues. Also, macropods are crepuscular, meaning they’re most active at dawn and dusk. If a keeper brings treats in the middle of the day, they won’t get much response from the animals. So stop by in the morning if you’d like to see our mob, or group of kangaroos, up and eating.