Why the food for 2 pandas at the Toronto Zoo costs $500k each year

If there’s one thing that pandas are good at doing, besides looking adorable, it’s eating.

“I thought I had a giant appetite until I started working with giant pandas. We offer them  50 kilograms of bamboo a day – so that’s roughly a hundred pounds. But they only eat about 10 to 15 kgs of that,” said Karen Tunwell, the Toronto Zoo’s senior zookeeper.

The furry creatures are the ultimate picky eaters. Their meals are flown in from Memphis, at a cost of $500,000 a year. That’s equivalent to what it costs to feed all the other animals at the Toronto Zoo combined.

Zookeepers have to present them with three times their daily intake  – so they can selectively pick through the tasty bits using a sniff and toss method.

“They are very very expensive – they’re far more expensive than any other animal at the zoo,” Jaap Wensvoort, the zoo’s nutritionist said.

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Zookeepers switched up the menu with some local fare donated from McMaster University’s biology greenhouse. At first the two pandas, Er Shun and Da Mao, dug in with earnest but pushed the food away when the next shipment arrived.

Asked if the giant pandas could be considered high maintenance, sr. zookeeper Karen Tunwell said: “on a scale of 1 to 10 I’d say they’re 9.5 to 11 diva”

The Toronto Zoo is able to pay the exorbitant cost of food due to increased attendance. Last year’s attendance was the highest in the last 18 years, third highest in the zoos 40 year history and it was a record breaking year in the gift shop thanks to the sale of plush pandas.

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