You may have seen keepers feeding animals when visiting the zoo.  Where do those diets come from?  Using the Saki Monkeys as an example I’m going show you the steps that happen before an animal is given its diet.

When you make food at home you follow a recipe.  It’s no different at the zoo.  Each animal has a specific diet recipe that tells what an animal should eat.  These recipes come from nutritionists at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and are modified by our curators for our specific animals.  It’s very important that we follow these recipes.  If we don’t it could lead to a variety of health problems such as obesity or liver disease.

The recipe for the Saki Monkeys is:

Per Animal, Feed 2x daily:

   (All our diets are weighed in grams.)

   50 gm. Canned Primate Diet

   3 Peanuts, in shell

   5 gm. broccoli

   5 gm. raw sweet potato

   5 gm. carrots

   15 gm. oranges (peeled)

   20 gm. hardboiled egg (peeled)

   2.5 gm. apple

   2.5 gm. banana

   1/2 grape

   2.5 gm. Ground New World Primate Biscuits

   5 gm. mixed veggies

   10 mealworms

The first thing we do is modify the diet for preparation in the commissary.  The original diet is only for one meal for one Saki Monkey.  Since we have two Saki Monkeys that get fed twice a day we need to multiply all the amounts by 4 (Diet times 2 Saki Monkeys times 2 meals).  Also, the mealworms are removed from the diet because keepers will add them later.

Commissary Prepares:

   200 gm. Canned Primate Diet

   12 Peanuts, in shell

   20 gm. broccoli

   20 gm. raw sweet potato

   20 gm. carrots

   60 gm. oranges (peeled)

   80 gm. hardboiled egg (peeled)

   10 gm. apple

   10 gm. banana

   2 grapes

   10 gm. Ground New World Primate Biscuits

   20 gm. mixed veggies


First we gather all the ingredients.

Then we weigh and chop up all the ingredients.  Preparation ranges from opening cans and getting the food out to cutting grapes in half.  The size items are cut depends on two main factors.  First, we want to cut the food so it is easy for the Saki Monkeys to eat.  Second, by cutting things up it means both monkeys get their favorite things instead of one eating everything.


A lid is put on securely.  This prevents the diet from spilling in transport.The food is placed in a bowl and a label is added so the keepers will know that it’s for the Saki Monkeys.


The totes are stacked on a cart and put into a cooler overnight.The Saki Monkey diet is put into a tote with other diets for animals in the same region in the zoo.  These are diets going to the South America and Tropics areas.

The next morning someone from maintenance loads the totes onto a trailer and delivers them into the zoo.

Keepers unpack the diets, including the Saki diet, from the totes and put them into refrigerators located in kitchens throughout the zoo.

The keeper working with the Saki Monkeys will do the final steps of diet preparation.  Since the Saki Monkeys get fed twice a day the diet from the commissary is divided in half for breakfast and dinner.  At the same time it is put into the bowls that are given to the Saki Monkeys.

These are the mealworms that were part of the original diet and not added in the commissary.  Mealworms are the larvae of a beetle and are raised for animal food.

Ten mealworms are added per monkey, that’s twenty total.



The last step taken by keepers is to give the diet to the Saki Monkeys in their enclosure.

Finally the Saki Monkeys get to eat!

All these steps make for happy and healthy Saki Monkeys.


About Dan Hemmann

author photo

Keeper Dan has always shown an interest in the small things.  This fascination led to a career in Entomology, the study of insects.  He also likes small people, and thinks zoos are one of the best ways to get kids excited about our natural world.  

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#1 Karon Flagg said:

Hi Dan, I found it very interesting the way you described an animal's meal from start to finished and delivered. Very specific and exact for those who don't know. C ya in the commissary some time. Karon

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