August 10th, 2010
Student Questions from the mailbox at Base Camp Discovery
Jennifer asks: Do zebras eat carrots?
Wild zebras are mainly grazers, which means they primarily eat the leaves, stems flowers and seeds of grasses and herbs. They clip off the plants with their broad front teeth (incisors) and grind them up to make them easier to digest with their flattened back teeth (molars and premolars). Grasses, in particular, are very hard to digest, but the zebra, like rhinos, rabbits and other horses, have an enlarged pouch, the caecum, which houses bacteria that help break down the tough fibers in the plants’ cell walls. The large intestine also contains these helpful microorganisms. Wild zebras will also eat flowers, fruits, tree bark, tree leaves and soft plant roots when they are available.
At the Zoo, the zebra diet mimics that of wild zebras. The majority of their diet consists of hay, which is dried, green timothy grass. The keepers also feed them between 1 to 2 pounds of grain, which is made from nutritious seeds from grasses such as corn and wheat and has other essential vitamins and minerals. They get a small amount of produce including carrots in their daily diet. However, if they perform a trained behavior on cue like touching their nose to a hand target or opening their mouth, they are rewarded with healthy treats like apples fiber biscuits (made from fruit), carrots (roots), horse treats and alfalfa cubes (leaves and stems from an herb in the clover family).