A giraffe at the Philly Zoo looks eagerly toward his next bag of 'browse,' branches and leaves trimmed around the region. (Courtesy of PECO)

The 1,300-plus animal inhabitants of the Philadelphia Zoo eat a lot. But now some 300 pounds a week of their food will be fresh clippings from around Philadelphia that have recently been trimmed away from power lines by PECO. As part of a Zoo-PECO sustainability partnership called "Browse," branches and leaves are being provided to feed some 40 species of animals out of the zoo's 330 species on-site.

"The trimmings will serve as a portion of the animal’s daily dietary selection, and offer substantial nutrients and a variation to their normal food options," PECO said in an announcement of the program. "Incorporating browse into animals’ diets provides additional nutritional value including fiber, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals."

The creatures that will be now be getting weekly deliveries of plant matter to chomp on include 1,750-pound giraffes, gazelles, kangaroos, tortoises and many of the Zoo's primate species, including gorillas, and even the eight-ounce degu, who resides in the Small Mammal House.

Philadelphia suffered severe power outages over the winter when heavy storms knocked down power lines, leading PECO to launch a "preventative tree trimming program."

 

So while protecting power wires, instead of just throwing away the trees and branches they cut down, PECO staff are recycling it as free food for the Zoo.

The program is not just sustainable and organic, it's also beneficial for the animals.

"Browse allows the Zoo to offer foods that are more consistent with what animals would likely consume in the wild, which encourages natural behavior and provides organic enrichment as both mammals and reptiles eat the leaves, play with sticks, or peel bark off branches," PECO said. "Zoo animals experience healthier teeth and digestive tracts, improved cognitive function, increased activity levels, and enhanced overall well-being, as a result."

Vegetation growth causes an estimated one-third of power outages in the Philly region.

“When trees and branches come in contact with overhead power lines, they can cause extended outages," PECO president and CEO Mike Innocenzo said in a statement. "Now, we are not only providing a benefit to our customers, we are also creating a positive impact for the animals at one of the region’s most premier attractions.”

The browse program was also held in 2017. Clipping is performed by the Asplundh Tree Expert Company, which delivers the browse weekly. The Philly Zoo also provides browse to its animals from other sources, including clippings on its own grounds near 34th and Girard and from a farm in Florida. 

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