Comparative Serum Analysis of Free-Ranging and Managed Green Moray Eels (Gymnothorax funebris) and Relationship to Diet Fed to Eels Under Human Care

Green moray eels (Gymnothorax funebris) under human care are reported to have elevated plasma cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations with associated development of lipid keratopathy (Clode et al. 2012). Nevertheless, serum trace mineral and vitamin analyses have not been assessed, and the complete nutrient content (cholesterol, vitamins, and minerals) of managed eel diets has also not been reported (Clode et al....

Development of an Artificial Diet to Support Conservation Efforts of the Atala Hairstreak Butterfly (Eumaeus atala)

The rare atala hairstreak butterfly (Eumaeus atala) is native to Florida, and coontie, a small cycad, is its only native host plant. In the early 1900’s, coontie was eradicated due to unsustainable agricultural practices, so atala populations plummeted.  The butterfly was thought to be extinct in the mid-1900s but has seen a comeback since its rediscovery near Miami in the...

Polar Bear Nutrition Guidelines

Polar bears, the most carnivorous of the Ursidae family, prey primarily on ringed seals (Best, 1985; Derocher, et. al, 2000; Stirling and Archibald, 1977).  When brought into captivity, maintaining their nutritional and mental health can be challenging.  Due to the lack of indepth species-specific research, captive polar bear diets must be based on a combination of known requirements of related...

Macronutrient selection in mammalian insectivores at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

This study determined macronutrient target of several mammalian insectivore species including 3-banded armadillo, aardvark, tamandua (lesser anteater), and greater anteater. These insectivores are often maintained on a commercial insectivore diet, which may or may not be appropriate for every species in this diverse and polyphyletic group. Animals were fed three experimental diets that varied in their proportions of calories from...

Comparative serum analysis of free-ranging and managed green moray eels (Gymnothorax funebris) and relationship to diet fed to eels under human care

Green moray eels (Gymnothorax funebris) under human care are reported to have elevated plasma cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations with associated development of lipid keratopathy (Clode et al. 2012). Nevertheless, serum trace mineral and vitamin analyses have not been assessed, and the complete nutrient content (cholesterol, vitamins, and minerals) of managed eel diets has also not been reported (Clode et al....

Practical investigation of cricket dust supplements commonly used to enhance diets provided to insectivore species under human care.

Amphibians  and  reptiles  commonly  managed  under  human  care  are  commonly  fed  farmed  feeder  crickets  (Acheta  domesticus)  that  are  deficient  in  calcium.  Calcium  deficiency  can  lead  to  the  development  of  nutritional  metabolic  bone  disease  in  animals  consuming  the  crickets;  therefore,  feeder  crickets  are  commonly  supplemented  with  calcium  by  either  dusting  the  crickets’exoskeleton  or  by  providing  crickets  with  a  calcium  enriched  diet. ...

Development of an artificial diet to support conservation efforts of the Atala Hairstreak Butterfly (Eumaeus atala)

The rare atala  hairstreak  butterfly  (Eumaeus  atala)  is  native  to  Florida,  and  coontie,  a  small  cycad,  is  its  only  native  host  plant.  In  the  early  1900’s,  coontie  was  eradicated  due  to  unsustainable  agricultural  practices,  so  atala  populations  plummeted.    The  butterfly  was  thought  to  be  extinct  in  the  mid-1900s  but  has  seen  a  comeback  since  its  rediscovery  near  Miami  in  the ...

The Mob-Under Investigation

‘Brewer’, a 4 year old male red kangaroo (Macropus rufus) under human care at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, presented on December 10, 2016 with signs of colic, penile prolapse, and dribbling urine. Diagnostic imaging, including radiographs and computed tomography (CT) with contrast, revealed urethral obstruction with a radiopaque stone and additional uroliths in the left ureter and right renal pelvis. The...

Fecal Condition Scoring Resource Center

Fecal condition scores and fecal color provide insight into how a diet is being digested by an animal and the state of gastrointestinal health. The following fecal condition scoring scales have been obtained from a variety of sources.  We have credited the authors where we can, and encourage you to submit additional scales or corrections to attributions.  More info is at the bottom of this page.

About Fecal Condition Scoring

As zoo and wildlife nutrition professionals, we utilize all information we can gather about the animals in our care and how they process their diet, especially information that can be gathered passively, without impact to the animal.  One, often underutilized, tool that used to assess how an animal is processing their diet is a thorough examination of their feces (stool).  This can be informal and subjective (i.e. – “loose,” or “pebble-like,” or “pudding”), but those words can mean different things to different people.  If fecal consistency is used as a tool to assess how a diet is digested and/or overall animal health, an objective assessment of that consistency is necessary.  We spend so much time looking at it, scooping it, moving it, dumping it, so let’s utilize it to better care for our animals!

Fecal Condition Scoring Scales

Fecal condition scores are developed to provide an objective and commonly understood scale to assess and describe fecal material.  Obviously, this differs with the species and digestive strategy in question (“ideal” horse and cow fecal material differs in consistency).  For this reason, a variety of scales have been developed.  These scales are primarily numerical with descriptive terminology and images associated with them.  These efforts have primarily focused on domestic animals (dogs), but also have expanded to several wildlife species.

The scores range from simple 1-3, 1-5, or 1-7 point systems, to similar systems with sub-scores for each number, and systems that score from 0-100 in 25 point increments. These types of scales are currently in place for some of our carnivore species, but remain undeveloped for most of the animals with which we work.

Implications of Fecal Condition Scores

Fecal condition scores can provide insight into how a diet is being digested (otherwise utilized) by an animal (color is helpful, as well).  Low scores (unformed, loose, diarrhea, etc) may indicate digestive upset, malabsorption, and/or possible hydration issues.  On the other end of the spectrum, hard stools may indicate a lack of appropriate fiber, a water balance issue, etc.  The routine use of fecal scoring systems with animals can provide an invaluable tool to veterinarians and animal managers when “something” changes with condition, consumption, and/or overall health.

Call for More Scales (Training Opportunity)

We welcome the development of additional scales.   This is an excellent opportunity for you, your staff, volunteers, interns, and other students to get involved in the development of a basic animal husbandry management tool!  Need a fecal condition scoring scale for a species not represented?  Consider the following:

  • Look at scales already developed and determine a format that might work best for the species in question.
  • We recommend developing scales that have lower scores as drier feces and higher scores as wetter feces (so we can start to gain some consistency, building from the scales established for domestics).
  • Consider photo techniques.  Just like body condition scoring (BCS), angle, light exposure, shadows can all play a role in visual assessment (especially in a 2D picture).  Take your best shots and include language that describes and supports the image as objectively as possible.
  • Once developed and tested/used, consider not only sharing the value and utility of the scales via a NAG Conference poster or the such, but also with the resource at this site and the associated ACM for the species.
  • This a great chance for your interns, volunteers, keepers, etc to get involved in a simple, yet very useful tool, to provide more objective information and get involved in animal care!

If you know of additional published resources for this page, we encourage you to submit them for potential inclusion:

Your Name (required)

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What species is this for?

Please upload your document for review.

Please provide as much reference/citation information you can so that we can properly attribute the resource.

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We will review your submission and post if we feel it is appropriate for this site.

The Hungry Hungry Hippo

In January 2017, Fiona the baby hippo was born at the Cincinnati Zoo six weeks premature and some 30 pounds underweight. Getting Fiona to put on pounds was a life-or-death matter. Unfortunately, nursing wasn’t an option, and the only hippo formula recipe on file was old and out of date. To devise a new one, team Fiona turned to the...

Featuring a great inter-institutional collaboration!
“A hippo, an orangutan, and a scientist walk into a milk bar…” or so our story goes.

Click the image to take a listen.

This story is also featured on CNN as a Great Big Story.

Click the picture to take peak.

Guidelines for the Humane and Ethical Acquisition and Management of Vertebrate Feeder Animals (Excluding Fish)

It is vitally important that omnivorous and carnivorous species in the care of zoos and aquariums receive the appropriate foods needed to meet their nutritional and behavioral requirements. Oftentimes this entails using ‘feeder animals’ as part of their diet.  It is important that zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) make certain that feeder animals...

Body Condition Scoring Resource Center

  The following body condition scoring (BCS) scales have been obtained from a variety of sources.  We have credited the authors where we can, and encourage you to submit newly developed or modified scales or corrections to attributions.

The following body condition scoring (BCS) scales have been obtained from a variety of sources.  We have credited the authors where we can, and encourage you to submit newly developed or modified scales or corrections to attributions.

Click to expand

Pangolins, Aardvarks, & Xenarthrans (Sloths, Anteaters, Armadillos)

About BCS Scales

Body condition scoring (BCS) is a subjective measurement of an animal’s muscle definition and superficial fatty tissue.BCS for Zoo Animals

BCS has been used for many years in the livestock industry to improve the productivity, health, reproduction and longevity of herds.  BCS has become increasingly common in zoological settings for many of the same reasons.  Our greatest challenge in zoos is to develop practical systems or scales for the diverse species with which we work.  Some scales have been well-developed and validated, while others remain works in progress.  The NAG encourages the careful and thoughtful development of new scales, the refinement of those that already exist, and the diligent attention to their implementation for the good of the animals in our care.

About BCS Scales

Body condition scoring scales are numerical, and they typically range from 1 (emaciated) to either 5 or 9 (obese).  When using a 5-point scale, many people will assign half points (2.5 or 4.5 out of 5), which effectively turns the 5 point scale into a 9 point scale.  Whenever possible, we recommend the use of a 9 point scale.


Implications of BCS Scores


Low BCS scores have been associated with lowered reproductive success, poor recovery from illness, and may be a sign of disease or age.  High BCS scores have been associated with an increased risk of dystocia (difficulty giving birth), reproductive disorders, arthritis, diabetes, and other chronic conditions (Chan-McLeod et al. 1994; Burkholder 2000; Aeberhard et al. 2001; Busato et al. 2002; Berry et al. 2007; Boudreau 2012).  Despite the known risks of being too far at either end of the BCS spectrum, a BCS score should be non-judgmental.  You may be pleased that an animal recovering from a serious illness has moved from a 2 to a 3 (on a 9-pt scale), yet worry that a healthy animal has dropped from a 4 to a 3.  You may be glad that an obese animal has dropped from an 8 to a 5, yet endeavor to raise an animal preparing for hibernation from a 5 to an 8 or 9 (which may be “normal,” physiologically, for the species in question).  Keep in mind that just because it may be “normal” for a species to be over-conditioned at a specific time of year or life stage, this does not impact the BCS scale (a score of 8/9 remains 8/9, even if declared “appropriate” in terms of animal management; the scale does not “slide” to make that over-conditioned animal a 5/9). In addition, the scale is does not slide for growing, geriatric, or pregnant animals (regardless of stage of life, metabolic status, etc, the scale is designed to assess condition as objectively as possible).

Tips for Body Condition Scoring

  • BCS is best learned and implemented through consistent practice.  Often, it helps to have multiple staff involved at the start (animal managers, keepers, veterinarians, nutritionists, etc.) to make sure everyone is on the same page regarding terminology, anatomy, and the scoring system being used.  In the end, however, it is often best to have a limited number of scorers so that consistency can be maintained.  In addition, having someone who does not see the animals every day perform the scoring can be helpful.
  • Scorers should be familiar with the anatomy of each species.  If multiple scorers are utilized, they should be objectively evaluated for consistency with the same animals.  It can be helpful to note the initials of the scorer when a BCS is performed and recorded.
  • Although there are many different systems/scales (even for a single species), it is a good idea to pick one scoring system for each species and stick with it.  This allows for increased familiarity and proficiency, over time.
  • BCS is a particularly useful tool for animals that aren’t very tractable or for those who are unable to be weighed regularly.  If body weights are available, BCS acts as a complementary assessment for management purposes.  Ensure that the interval between BCS is reasonable and practical.
  • For growing animals, body weights can be paired with appropriate growth curves to assess development. However, body weights in growing individuals often vary, even within species, and may not be the best assessment of growth. In these cases, BCS can be used not only to assess appropriate growth, but also to establish target weights for individuals.
  • If your species of interest does not have a scale established, please consider developing one.  If you do, look at those that have already been thoughtfully developed. Ideal BCS scales are easy to use, distinguish biologically relevant changes in status, provide enough description that multiple observers will obtain similar results, and, ideally, have been validated through other means (ultrasound, TOBEC, necropsy).  Photographs and drawings should clearly show points of interest and be coupled with clear written descriptions.   The NAG encourages you to share your systems by presenting a poster or presentation at our conference, or publishing in another format that can be accessed by the zoo community.
    • Aeberhard K, Bruckmaier RM, Kuepfer U, and Blum JW. 2001. Milk Yield and Composition, Nutrition, Body Conformation Traits, Body Condition Scores, Fertility and Diseases in High-Yielding Dairy Cows – Part 1. Journal of Veterinary Medicine Series A 48:97–110.
    • Berry DP, Lee JM, Macdonald KA, and Roche JR. 2007. Body Condition Score and Body Weight Effects on Dystocia and Stillbirths and Consequent Effects on Postcalving Performance. Journal of Dairy Science 90:4201–4211.
    • Boudreau L. 2012. Effect of Moderate Diet Restriction on Body Condition, Health, and Reproductive Performance in Female Mink (Neovison vison).
    • Burkholder WJ. 2000. Use of body condition scores in clinical assessment of the provision of optimal nutrition. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 217:650–654.
    • Busato A, Faissler D, Küpfer U, and Blum JW. 2002. Body condition scores in dairy cows: associations with metabolic and endocrine changes in healthy dairy cows. Journal of Veterinary Medicine Series A 49:455–460.
  • Chan-McLeod ACA, White RG, and Holleman DF. 1994. Effects of protein and energy intake, body condition, and season on nutrient partitioning and milk production in caribou and reindeer. Canadian Journal of Zoology 72:938–947.

If you know of additional published resources for this page, we encourage you to submit them for potential inclusion:

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)

What species is this for?

Please upload your document for review.

Please provide as much reference/citation information you can so that we can properly attribute the resource.

Please reassure us you aren't a robot. Type the following:


We will review your submission and post if we feel it is appropriate for this site.

So you (don’t) think you need a nutritionist?

The first zoo nutritionist was hired at the Smithsonian National Zoo in 1978 (Crissey, 2001a). At the time, this zoo and others were acknowledging the importance of a qualified zoo nutritionist and the value of a zoo nutrition program to the health and welfare of the animals in their collection. To date, nearly 20 AZA accredited facilities in North America,...

Preliminary investigations into circulating vitamin E concentrations in captive okapi (Okapia johnstoni)

Normal circulating vitamin E levels have not been established for okapi (Okapi johnstoni) on a captive diet. Blood samples were obtained in 1996 by the Okapi SSP for free-ranging okapi in Zaire (Lukas, 1996). In 2009, vitamin E levels were acquired for animals housed at the Epulu Station in the Democratic Republic of the Congo fed an all leaf diet...

Nutritional analysis of mixed produce for exotic species using near infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS)

Near Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy (NIRS) has long been established as a fast, easy, and cost effective technology for measuring basic organic components utilized in diet formulations. In zoological facilities, accurate timely quality control of diet ingredients, including highly variable items and those with a short shelf life, such as produce, can be difficult. We utilized traditional wet chemistry data from...

Managing diabetes through diet in black-footed tree rats (Mesembriomys gouldii) and greater stick-nest rats (Leporillus conditor)

Clinical and pathological signs consistent with diabetes mellitus (DM) were observed in a collection of Black Footed Tree Rats (BFTR; Mesembriomys gouldii) and Greater Stick-Nest Rats (GSNR; Leporillus conditor) housed at Taronga zoo. Review of the medical records of eighteen BFTR between 1991 and 2014, and thirty eight GSNR between 1995 and 2014, revealed a high frequency of animals with...

Investigation of a new diet formula for captive short-beaked echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus)

Short beaked echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus) are myrmecophages, ant and termite specialists, and replicating their diet in captivity is problematic. Captive diets often incorporate raw meat, eggs and cat food mixed together with water and vitamin and mineral supplements. These diets have presented a number of health problems, such as cystitis, gut impaction, obesity and diarrhea. This study aimed to assess...

Interpreting vitamins and mineral concentrations in serum of exotic species: lab values are not infallible

The prospect of trust and laboratory analysis is often so frightening a concept, scientists in the zoo field, including nutritionists and veterinarians, do not discuss it as more than a side note. Often we trust that specialists in biochemistry and new analysis technologies ensure proper verification of lab methodology, and would inform the consumer of any difficulties or questionable data....

Impact of dietary n-3 and n-6 PUFA on oxidative status and inflammation in yellow-rumped warblers

The intake and ratio of the essential fatty acid classes, n-3 and n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), impact animal health. The dietary ratio of these fatty acids can be important as n-3 PUFA are considered anti-inflammatory, while n-6 PUFA are pro-inflammatory. Additionally, the increased number of double bonds in PUFA makes them more vulnerable to oxidative damage, potentially increasing the...

Hand-rearing and growth of a grey seal (Halichoerus grypus)

Typical grey seal lactation lasts 15-21 days, followed by abrupt weaning by the dam and a several weeks long period of relatively significant weight loss while the pup learns to feed and fend for itself. It was with this natural history in mind that we formulated a grey seal hand-rearing protocol pending the birth of a female pup in early...

The growth responses of two polar bear (Ursus maritimus) cubs to regimented dietary energy

The growth of polar bear (Ursus maritimus) cubs depends to a large extent on litter size and the provision of maternal care, specifically, milk production and the sharing of prey (Derocher and Stirling, 1996, Robbins et al., 2012). Cubs in most subpopulations stay with their mothers for up to 2 ½ years and rely solely on maternal milk during the...

Feeding frenzy: turning the science of zoo nutrition into a game for kids

In 2012, Busch Gardens opened the Animal Care Center to the public to share general information about the techniques and science involved in preventative and emergency care of the 12,000 animal residents of the zoo as well as local injured wildlife. Zoo educators teamed up with the veterinary and nutrition staff to develop demonstrations and interpretive elements that would share...

Evaluation of browse composition: vitamin E

Vitamin E is an important antioxidant, and deficiency is known to impact the reproduction, growth, and immunity in many species. Dietary browse can be an important source of vitamin E for animals housed in zoological institutions; however the contribution of these items to total dietary vitamin E likely varies by browse species and across time. Our objective was to evaluate...

Evaluation of a commercial vitamin and mineral supplement in milk replacers on serum nutrients in pre-ruminants

Since opening in May 1972, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park has hand-raised hundreds of ruminant neonates. In order to improve success rates and generate appropriate protocols with any hand-reared neonate species, it is important to document each animal’s daily status and changes implemented to husbandry practices with each experience. Milk formula composition and consumption, solid-food intake, body weights, and...

Evaluating the nutrition of a flock of non-breeding greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber roseus) at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

A flock of 150 greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber roseus) at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park were moved to a new enclosure in 2010 to provide them a larger exhibit and to promote the breeding of lesser flamingos (Phoeniconaias minor) that shared the previous exhibit. Since the greater flamingos moved, they have not laid eggs through June 2015. A nutrition...

Effect of dietary soluble fiber on gut microbiota in the sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps): a pilot study

The sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps) is an exudativore in nature, eating plant gums, saps, resins, manna, and nectars as well as insect-based honeydew and lerp, with proportions of various ingredients highly dependent on seasonality and locale (Smith, 1982; Howard, 1989). Despite a well-developed cecum that could, in theory, harbor microbial populations with fermentative capabilities (Hume, 1999), a majority of captive...

Designing an online hand-rearing resource center: first steps

In 2014, Safari West and the Safari West Wildlife Foundation (Santa Rosa, CA) hosted “The Inaugural AZVT (Association of Zoo Veterinary Technians) Focus Group: The Art and Science of Hand-Rearing”, a symposium that was attended by 80 zoo professionals from around the globe. With the initial focus on carnivores and hoofstock, twenty international speakers provided their insights into both historical...

Common aquatic ingredient nutrient analyses: balancing practical feeding with long term aquatic health

Optimizing dietary formulations for aquatic species is one of the most challenging aspects of nutrition for exotics. Whether designing diets for elasmobranches, fish in a multi-species aquarium, or marine mammals, understanding the nutrients provided in the food is essential. Ideally, designing aquatic diets utilizes both known body weights of the target species, and analyzed nutrient contents of diet items. Repercussions...

Commercial aquatic diets and water quality

Water quality is an important limitation of diet choice and feed amounts in ornamental aquaria. Advanced life support system technology (a.k.a. water treatment) allow aquaria to maintain proper water quality; however, addition of diet items to the water is regarded as a key component impacting water quality maintenance via the load presented to life support systems. Herein, we evaluated nutrient...