They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. To this, we say “ditto!” – the key to keeping an animal in the pink of health is through its stomach too. For the basic health and wellbeing of our animals, feeding the right type and amount of food is definitely a big deal.
While there is no single meal that can satisfy the palate of every zoo animal (herbivores, carnivores, insectivores and the list goes on…), have you wondered how are highly-specialised eaters like the giant pandas or the pangolins provided for?
Feeding almost exclusively on ants and termites, pangolins are not the most easygoing when it comes to food. In the wild, a pangolin uses its acute sense of smell to sniff out an ant or termite nest before tearing it apart or digging into it using its large and elongated claws.
Without teeth that might impede incoming food, the pangolin deftly uses its long sticky tongue to slurp the insect morsels up its snout. Over a few sittings, the pangolin can consume around 200 thousands of ants and termites in a day. That amounts to almost 73 million insects in a year! How’s that for controlling the insects’ populations in their natural habitats!
Providing a suitable yet sustainable diet for these naturally picky eaters in captivity proved to be a major head-scratcher for keepers at Night Safari back then. To hunt for and collect a constant stream of ants and termites (recall: 73 million insects per pangolin per year) would mean a tremendous amount of effort and time needed, which is not feasible in the long run. Moreover, Singapore has its regular monsoon periods which would make finding ants or termites a tougher challenge. An artificial diet is definitely required!
It took almost 3 years and tedious efforts to formulate a well-balanced recipe suited for our Sunda pangolins (Manis javanica). The diet intended for the Chinese Pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) at Taipei Zoo was used as a starting point. It took a whole lot of effort on researching, poring through published findings on pangolin diets, tweaking of the type and amount of ingredients, feeding and observing our pangolins’ reactions by our dedicated keepers to eventually formulate a diet that worked well.
Revealing some of the ingredients that go into the pangolin feed at Night Safari…
- Eggs, mealworms and meat – To provide necessary nutrients like crude proteins and fats
- Multivitamin complex – To promote growth, improve appetite and make up for any nutritional deficiencies
- Insectivore pellets – Commercially available food that is specially formulated to provide for the high fibre and protein contents required by insectivorous animals
- Chitin (white powder) – A vital component which helps to slow down the passage of food through the pangolin’s digestive system, enhancing the absorption of nutrients
- Ants – Added as a ‘topping’ to encourage pangolins that are starting out on the artificial diet. They will eventually be reduced and taken off the menu once they are used to the pangolin feed
Eating is a sloppy and messy business for our pangolins at Night Safari.
For those who are into food photography, the presentation of food to a pangolin matters too (though it is more of practicality and less of aesthetics). Ingredients for the pangolin feed are blended to form a gooey brown paste that allows hassle-free slurping by the toothless pangolin.
A large and shallow container allows easy food access while being heavy enough to prevent the pangolin from tipping it over as it relishes its meal. The effort of our Night Safari keepers definitely paid off with our pangolins taking well to the diet and gaining weight. And not long after, we welcomed our first pangolin birth, followed by another 2 to date!
Night Safari is the only wildlife institution in the world that managed to display and breed the endangered Sunda pangolin, which is also native to Singapore. While we are doing our part to understand and keep pangolins under our charge healthy, pangolins in the wild require our attention and action as they fight a tough battle against illegal wildlife trading for their flesh and scales.
In Singapore, though not traded as rampantly as compared to nearby countries, native pangolins face the woes of habitat reduction and sometimes sustain bad injuries or land up as road kills while traversing urban areas. Do your part, spread the conservation message and drop by the Night Safari to visit these lovely gems!