Care of the Zoo Animals
Nearly 500 native, rare and endangered animals represent more than 125 unique species at the Sacramento Zoo. Staff strive daily to not only provide uncompromising care for the animals, but also work to conserve species and habitats around the world. Our staff are active leaders in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), an organization that establishes standards for the well-being of zoo animals. We also make sure to listen to you and be active in addressing your questions. We hope that the information on this page does just that.
Learn about how we care for our animals and work with outside organizations to giving uncompromising care. By browsing this page you will learn about everything from nutrition and training to common misconceptions about the Sacramento Zoo.
Since the 1970s the Sacramento Zoo has had a robust partnership with the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine to provide the highest quality health care for the zoo’s much-loved animals. As part of this partnership, veterinary students and residents receive hands-on training at the Sacramento Zoo, where they gain proficiency under the guidance of knowledgeable and experienced zoo veterinarians.
The Sacramento Zoo plays an important role in the training of future zoo veterinarians. Dr. Murray E. Fowler started the very first zoological medicine residency program in the world at UC Davis in 1974. This residency program is a three-year commitment by veterinarians wishing to specialize in zoological medicine. The first year of the residency is here at the Sacramento Zoo. The second year is at the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld San Diego, followed by the final year at the San Diego Safari Park. This successful partnership has trained almost four-dozen residents to become specialists in zoological medicine and given hundreds of veterinary students the opportunity to gain invaluable experience working with exotic and endangered species.
All of the nearly 500 animals at the Sacramento Zoo receive routine examinations. Many of these procedures can be viewed by zoo visitors through the windows at the Murray E. Fowler Veterinary Hospital. These exams are similar to routine physicals performed by your own primary care physician. A complete physical exam includes body weight, assessing body condition, ophthalmic exam, dental exam and cleaning (if they have teeth!), checking the transponder microchip, careful palpation of the limbs and abdomen, blood sample and other lab testing, routine radiographs and auscultation of the heart and lungs.
When an animal is ill, our veterinary staff are there to help. This starts with a physical exam supplemented by diagnostic lab testing, x-rays and surgery. We partner with outside specialists, including those from UC Davis, whenever needed. The zookeepers are an integral part of the treatment plan, much like a caregiver is for a family member. The treatment plan may be as simple as keepers communicating to the veterinarians daily about the status of a patient, to the more difficult task of getting animal patients to take all their medicine on time. In cases where patients are extremely ill, animals are monitored overnight by trained staff.
The zoo’s commissary staff begin work at 6:30 am so they can have the diets prepared for the various animal sections in time for the start of the day. There is a whirlwind of activity in the kitchen including preparing meats, chopping produce, sorting insects and measuring dry food. Each of our animals receives uncompromising excellence in animal care including the best in nutrition.
The dietary needs of our animals are almost as varied as the animals themselves. Diet sheets are kept for every individual and they outline the type and amount of food needed every day of the week. Diets are created based on zoo nutritionist information, information from the wild, advice of Species Survival Plans®, and our zoo veterinarians. Zookeepers and commissary staff are also in tune with each individual animal’s likes and dislikes. Fluctuation in dietary needs and preferences can also vary based upon the season as well as age of an animal.
The Sacramento Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Accreditation is the establishment and maintenance of professional standards and the qualitative evaluation of organizations in the light of those standards. Through this process, a profession is judged based on standards and best practices established by experts within that profession.
To become accredited by the AZA, Sacramento Zoo undergoes a thorough and rigorous review every five years as well as oversight into the daily activities of the zoo. This ensures that the Sacramento Zoo has and will continue to meet rising standards, which include animal care and welfare, veterinary programs, conservation, education, finances, facilities upkeep and safety. Over 2,800 facilities in the United States exhibit animals, and fewer than 10 percent of these facilities are accredited by AZA.
Being an AZA-accredited facility has innumerable benefits. The Sacramento Zoo participates in Species Survival Plans® (SSPs), which manage the breeding, transfer, and conservation of at-risk species on a national and sometimes international levels. Currently, AZA institutions are committed to more than 300 SSPs that manage around 600 species.
Why is accreditation important?
- Accreditation keeps the Sacramento Zoo’s commitment to animal care and welfare at the forefront of daily operations and decision making at all times through the ever-raised bar of AZA standards.
- Conservation is a priority for AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums and a key part of their missions. Every year, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums spend $160 million on field conservation alone, supporting more than 2,700 projects in 130 countries.
- Being AZA-accredited enhances zoos’ working relationships with various regulatory organizations.
- Accreditation increases global cooperation with professional organizations in other regions including the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums. This cooperation aids animal conservation efforts in range countries, the exchange of ideas and expertise, training of staff, and international movements of managed-species programs for the long-term benefit of the species.
- As centers for conservation, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums provide the public with essential connections to the natural world. More than 50 million guests visit AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums annually and AZA-accredited facilities train 40,000 teachers every year, supporting state science curricula.
Visit the Association of Zoos and Aquariums website for more information.
A Species Survival Plan® (SSP) is the responsible and planned management of a specific species population in human care. SSPs cooperatively manage specific populations with the goal of sustaining a healthy, genetically diverse, and demographically varied species well into the future. An important facet of the program is the breeding of animals in a responsible and planned manner. Even if an animal is not reproducing, they are still helping the SSP Program in an important way.
Each SSP program coordinates the individual activities of participating member institutions through a variety of species conservation, research, husbandry, management, and educational initiatives. They also enhance conservation of the species in the wild. SSP Programs are led by expert advisors who cooperatively work together to maximize genetic diversity, as well as appropriately manage the demographic distribution and long-term sustainability within AZA member institutions.
The AZA and its member institutions recognize that cooperative management is critical to the long-term survival of professionally managed animal programs and are fully committed to the goals and cooperative spirit of the Species Survival Plan® Program partnerships.
Visit the SSP webpage for more information.
Enriching an animal’s environment comes in many forms, including altering their physical environment, creating social groupings and increasing sensory stimulation. Zookeepers utilize enrichment and husbandry to elicit natural behaviors from the animals under their care. Some examples of enrichment at the Sacramento Zoo are boxes and bags filled with treats, plastic barrels that can be rolled, pounced, and stomped, as well as various scents placed on toys or around an exhibit. Even presenting diets in a different manner is enriching.
Enrichment helps satisfy both the physical and psychological needs of animals and allows them to make choices. Thus, animal enrichment creates a win-win-win situation for the animals, visitors and keepers!
The animals at the zoo are acclimated to the fluctuating highs and lows of the Sacramento Valley, much like you and me. Zookeepers are also cognizant of species and individual needs for daily seasonal weather changes. Each individual animal is offered the appropriate options to meet their needs.
Examples of winter preparations:
- Supplying heat sources
- Installing wind breaks and overhead shelter
- Providing heavier bedding materials
- Increasing access to shelter sources
Examples of summer preparations:
- Providing ice and other frozen treats
- Placing fans or air conditioning in protected off-exhibit areas
- Water features or misters in exhibits
- Creating exhibits with built in shade options
- Ready access to shelter sources
- Always have access to drinking water
As the summer heat increases or the winter weather begins, zookeepers are always prepared to fit the needs of the zoo’s residents.
Do you buy and sell animals?
The Sacramento Zoo does not create funding sources by the selling of animals.
The Sacramento Zoo works cooperatively with other Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Species Survival Plan® Programs, and AZA Taxon Advisory Groups in the acquisition of animals to the zoo. The majority of animal moves in and out of the Sacramento Zoo are orchestrated through these species-managed program needs. The vast majority of our animal contractual exchanges are either a donation or the animal is on loan and in agreement with other accredited institutions.
Some animals that come to the Sacramento Zoo may be a rescue or in need of need of temporary housing after having been seized or recovered by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife or the United States Fish and Wildlife Services. These situations are always a donation or loan and money is never exchanged. Animals that leave the Sacramento Zoo do so in exchange with those who meet the Association of Zoos and Aquariums animal care standards.
Do you operate for profit?
The Sacramento Zoological Society manages the day-to-day care of the Sacramento Zoo and is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit institution whose mission is to inspire appreciation, respect and a connection with wildlife and nature through education, recreation and conservation.
Where do the animals come from?
The majority of animals at the Sacramento Zoo were born at the Sacramento Zoo or another zoo. Through a mutual commitment to conservation, zoos work together to protect the growing number of endangered animal species. This is done through the responsible management of specific populations, via Species Survival Plans® coordinated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Some animals that come to the Sacramento Zoo may be a rescue or in need of need of temporary housing after having been seized or recovered by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife or the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. These situations are always a donation or loan and money is never exchanged. Animals that leave the Sacramento Zoo do so in exchange with those who meet the Association of Zoos and Aquariums animal care standards.
The Sacramento Zoo maintains all the proper permits (local, state and federal) and is in good standing with its oversight organizations. Oversight organizations include:
- Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)
- United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) / Animal and Plant
- Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Veterinarians
- United States Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS)
- California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CAFW)
Animal training or operant conditioning plays a very important role in the well-being of the animals under our care. Participation in training sessions by the animal is voluntary and utilizes positive reinforcement techniques. How the Sacramento Zoo animals are trained is divided into two areas.
Main Areas in the Zoo
Sacramento Zoo’s animal training focuses on husbandry behaviors – opening the mouth for inspection, learning to have blood drawn voluntarily, going into a crate, showing paws or getting on a scale. Often this training is done with protected barriers, with mesh between the animal and the keeper. For other species, such as birds, it is done in the exhibit with the animals. Husbandry training is a varied and wide-ranging craft that improves the lives of animals, enhances the safety of the staff, and is enriching for the animals. At the Sacramento Zoo, almost every individual animal is part of a tailored voluntary training program.
Interpretive Center animals are animal ambassadors that play a role in the zoo’s education programs. They visit schools on ZooMobiles, participate in wildlife stage shows, and can be seen during animal encounters. Their behaviors are trained for husbandry reasons and also to show their amazing adaptations and natural behaviors during education programs.
Thanks to comprehensive and well-rounded healthcare, a nutritionally sound diet, coupled with exceptional care from zookeepers, and husbandry training most animals in zoos live longer than their counterparts in the wild. Next time you visit the Sacramento Zoo talk to a zookeeper about how they care for the animals, you may be surprised at how many senior citizens live at the Sacramento Zoo.
In general, zoo animals are not domesticated or tame. Although many were born in human care, as were their parents, they are wild animals and are cared for as such.
Habitat for animals in the wild continues to decrease. Human population encroaching on wild lands is ever present as well as the illegal hunting and taking of animals out of the wild. Zoos are working with governments and field researchers to create complex reintroduction plans to place some species back in the wild (e.g., bongos, black and white ruffed lemurs, Aruba island rattlesnake, Guam rails). In instances where the animals are being placed on protected lands they must be provided the necessary components to survive and thrive. Reintroduction programs must also proceed carefully so as to not displace or heavily impact the wild animals already on the land. There must also be a good monitoring program for the individuals after release.
Any reintroduction program is complex and challenging. While there are still threats to animals around the world, maintaining animals in human care will remain important for the species to survive.
The Sacramento Zoo is a nonprofit with a mission to inspire appreciation, respect and a connection with wildlife and nature through education, recreation and conservation. We take the care of our animals and your questions seriously. If you have questions or concerns, please contact us.