Melons are all the rage at the San Diego Zoo, especially in the scorching days of summer.
“Every animal I know who could eat a melon likes a melon. They’re juicy and sweet and cool,” said senior veterinarian Dr. Cora Singleton. “If you’re a bird, they love to come by and eat the inside. If you’re an elephant, you plop the entire melon in your mouth.”
Zookeepers serve up melons from restaurant vendors to creatures galore, and they even have a name for this: “Melon enrichment.”
“We feed out cantaloupe and honeydew as part of some animal diets all year long, and watermelon is used as a special treat,” said animal care supervisor Jessica Sheftel. “Bears tend to like honeydew, and reptiles gravitate toward watermelons.”
“Most of our animals do not receive a whole melon at one time, as it is more than they should have,” Sheftel said. “However, our larger animals such as bears and elephants sometimes receive whole melons. This is when they are the most enriching because they have the opportunity to process the melons the way they might process other fruit in their natural habitat.”
There’s one popular animal that doesn’t eat melons: The koala.
Koalas mainly eat eucalyptus leaves, and they don’t tend to drink water.
But they aren’t necessarily deprived of awesome treats. The zoo is home to a diabetic koala named Quincy that just got his own human-style continuous glucose monitoring device. Zookeepers give him pureed eucalyptus smoothies to help him tolerate medical procedures. “Put that in a big syringe,” Singleton said, “and he’ll volunteer for most anything.”
Wow. That’s about as cool as a melon in August.
For videos of large animals eating (or valiantly trying to eat) watermelons, click here.
This post originally appeared in the August 13 Morning Report.