The statement below provides information for zoological institutions that are interested in using animal carcasses to supplement a diet management program for exotic carnivores. It was developed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Nutrition Advisory Group (NAG) steering committee from an understanding of current regulations set forth by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service and a review of current practices by zoos around the country.
At the end of this statement are some references that may be helpful to give the reader further insight into this practice.
Nutrition Advisory Group
Feeding of Vertebrate Animal Carcass and Whole Body Prey Statement
Feeding vertebrate animal carcasses to captive carnivores has been a management tool used by zoos in the United States for many years. It encompasses a wide variety of prey types/ form of presentation, from whole body to portion controlled, and has the beneficial effects of stimulating activity and improving normal feeding behavior.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Nutrition Advisory Group (NAG) recognizes that this practice is a viable tool in good management protocols for many carnivore exhibits, and offers the following guidelines and suggestions [recommendations] to ensure its safe and effective employment.
The terms ‘carcass’ and ‘whole body prey’ may take on meanings that differ between institutions and/or official definitions from the USDA. For the purpose of this paper, carcass refers to the body of an animal from which the hide and viscera have been removed. Carcass refers typically to larger animals such as goats, sheep, calves and deer. Whole body prey is an intact animal complete with entrails and fur [or feathers]. Whole body prey are typically smaller animals such as chicks, quail, rabbits, rats and mice.
All institutions responsible for feeding captive carnivores must be aware of and follow USDA policy #251. While this policy refers to large felids only, the NAG recommends this policy be applied to all carnivores. The NAG urges institutions to acquire carcasses only from USDA and/or Agriculture Canada inspected facilities and whole body prey from licensed vendors. (Note: most Canadian Zoos belong to the AZA but also follow Canadian standards that are similar to American standards.) The use of ‘road kill’ should be discouraged, as should the acceptance of donated carcasses and prey animals, unless it can be established that they are from a safe source2,3.
Institutions that choose to feed carcasses and whole body prey should be aware of the potential hazards (pathogenic and parasitic) that exist for collection carnivores and undertake precautions that minimize risks and ensure that carcass and whole body prey is wholesome4. Animal products should be shipped and received in frozen form and immediately transferred and stored in a freezer kept at -5o F (-20o C) or below5,6. If whole animals that are received for use as carcasses require further processing, they should be processed (head and hide removed, eviscerated) in an area separate from any other food preparation areas to avoid potential cross contamination. Fresh carcasses should be quick-frozen to minimize tissue damage and stored for a minimum of 30 days to reduce the risk of parasite infection.
Defrosting of carcasses and whole body prey should be done in a manner similar to that used in thawing any other meat products. Placing frozen products (still in their original packaging materials) in a refrigerator for a 24 to 48 hour period (depending upon the package size) prior to feeding will minimize tissue damage caused by rapid thawing.
As noted above, carcass is defined as an animal from which the hide and viscera have been removed. Zoos that receive intact animals have the option of discarding the hide or using it as behavioral enrichment product. Such use must be tempered with adequate precautions and protections to assure that hide-borne pathogens are not introduced into either the food handling or exhibit areas.
Finally and most importantly, the NAG only condones carcass and whole body prey feeding as part of a program that ensures the diets of animals are nutritionally balanced and wholesome.
1Policy #25. Animal Welfare Act Section 13, 9 CFR, Subpart F, Section 3.129. October 13,1998. Document currently unavailable online.
2O’Rourke, K. 2002. Euthanized animals can poison wildlife; veterinarians receive fine. J.Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 220:146-147.
3Harrison, T.M., S.H. Harrison, W.K. Rimbeiha, J. Sikarskie, M. McClean. 2006. Surveillance for selected bacterial and toxicologic contaminants in donated carcass meat fed to carnivores. JZWM, 37(2): pp 102-107.
4Richter, E.R. and I. Sheddy. 1990 Microbiological quality and safety of zoo food. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 56:877-880.
5Crissey, S.D., K.A. Slifka, P. Shumway, and S.B. Spencer. 2001. Handling Frozen/Thawed Meat and Prey Items Fed to Captive Exotic Animals. USDA Animal and Plant Inspection Service. National Technical Information Service, 5285 Port Royal Road, Springfield, NA 22161.
6Stark, B. 2005. The development of a carcass-feeding program. Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference On Environmental Enrichment 31 July – 5 August, New York, USA. Pp. 198-204.