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National Zoo taps into local growers to keep pandas well-fed
Mr. Smith, 33, said the team uses loppers, or branch cutters, to cut down the bamboo. Hand tools are preferred over power tools, but if the crews do use a chain saw to cut the plant, the loppers are then used to trim the ends to avoid contaminating the plant.
The procurement team makes three or four trips per week, depending on the weather as well as the time of year.
Mr. Maslanka explained that, depending on the season, giant pandas will switch from eating the leaves of the bamboo to the actual bamboo stalk. It takes more harvesting to get 100 pounds of leaves than it does 100 pounds of thick bamboo stalk.
“It’s like iceberg lettuce,” Mr. Maslanka said of the bamboo. “It has caloric value, it has nutritional value.”
But bamboo tends to be difficult to digest, Mr. Maslanka said, which is why the pandas must eat so much of it.
When the crew returns to the zoo, the bamboo is put in a parking bay outfitted with water misters, similar to the sprays in the produce section of grocery stores. The bamboo doesn’t stay fresh for long, but the moisture helps keep it green until it is delivered to hungry mouths.
As the sun rises each morning, trucks loaded with the day’s meals for the 2,000 animals make their way through the zoo, stopping at the doors of each exhibit to drop off crates of fruits, vegetables, raw meat, frozen mice and rabbits — and the bamboo. It costs about $1.2 million each year to feed all the animals.
Mr. Ostermann, 48, and his wife, Lisa, bought their home earlier this year. During the buying process, they learned that the owner worked with the zoo on the bamboo harvest site.
The owner’s father had been an Army physician based in Asia, and when he returned brought home bamboo seeds, Mr. Ostermann said.
“There’s now a rather large bamboo crop,” he said. “We have 14 acres of property. A good bit of it is woods and a good bit of that is bamboo.”
After buying the home, Mr. Ostermann wrote to the zoo and expressed his interest in keeping up the bamboo harvest.
“I immediately had a message from Mike and the next day a personal email from the National Zoo saying they would love to continue the cooperation.”
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Meredith Somers is a Metro reporter for The Washington Times. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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