Aimed at returning joy to the animals that have delighted generations of Filipinos at the zoo, Animal Scene joined the groups Live Fish Bait, Philippine Exotic Minded, and advocacy leader Zoo Crew Philippines.

Jerry Young, vice president of Animal Welfare and Operations at the Manila Zoo, gave sponsors and volunteers who were present a tour of the premises, introducing popular animals such as Bertha the hippopotamus and the big cats, and explaining their feeding behavior.

It is believed that health monitoring and regular nutritious feeding in controlled habitats—such as those found at the Manila Zoo—can help extend the lifespans of animals in the zoo, as compared to those in the wild, who are exposed to the dangers of poachers, diseases, lack of food, habitat loss, and nature’s harsh conditions.

These feeding programs augment the animals’ regular diets, and allow food donors a chance to interact with the animals by feeding them. Managing editor Jeffrey Lim, who made a contribution on behalf of the magazine, was among those who helped feed nutritious food; his ‘customer’ was the hippo named Bertha. He discovered that a hippo’s mouth can open as wide as 180 degrees, and that while hippos are often thought to be carnivores, they are actually herbivores.

Animal Scene Managing Editor Jeff Lim put his hand in Bertha the hippo’s mouth.

Bertha loves grass, corn, and cabbage; despite her intimidating teeth, she is quite friendly and harmless. Being a ‘senior citizen’ animal, her skin is mostly pinkish as compared to the charcoal gray of the skin of younger hippos. Did you know that hippos, according to the zookeepers, are the only animals that can produce their own sunblock? Which is a good thing as they are prone to skin cancer.

While there are 11 tigers, 5 tiger cubs, 3 lions, and one lion cub, only professionals feed the big cats. All of them were either donated or rescued from less than ideal conditions. They are normally fed a mixture of chicken and other kinds of meat; sometimes, liver or chicken heads are added. All their food must be raw. One tip shared by the keepers is to never make eye contact with a tiger who is eating, as this will cause them to consider you an enemy; also, showing fear can cause them to attack you.

The program ‘Treats for the Kindred Beasts” was made possible by Animal Scene and the groups Live Fish Bait, Philippine Exotic Minded, and Zoo Crew Philippines, led by their president, Consul Buddy Cunanan.

It is hoped that through this and similar programs, more Filipinos can learn to appreciate animals outside the hype and misconceptions that popular media can attach to them, and to understand that we are all part of something much bigger: the world of nature.

Volunteers are always welcome; visit the Zoo Crew Facebook page for more details.

This appeared as “Feeding the Zoo Residents” in Animal Scene’s October 2015 issue.