At the Zoo, our staff in the Orthwein Animal Nutrition Center work hard to make sure the animals eat well. It takes as many as 24 man hours per day to prepare and deliver the bulk foods and special diets needed throughout the Saint Louis Zoo.

Dr. Debra Schmidt, William R. Orthwein, Jr. Family Animal Nutritionist at the Zoo, first determines the nutritional needs of each animal. Dr. Schmidt determines how much protein, fat, fiber, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals each animal needs, and which foods best provide these nutrients. She works closely with curators, keepers and veterinarians to make sure our animals are eating healthy.

The Nutrition Center keepers then take those recommendations and ensure that the proper items are packaged and delivered to the animal keepers who in turn prepare meals for individual animals. The Nutrition Center keepers start their day at 5:30 a.m. in order to have all the food delivered by the time the animal keepers arrive to begin their daily routine. Each morning, ape keepers receive 180 pounds of fresh food, the Bird House gets 30 pounds of fruit and vegetables, and Sea Lion Sound is sent 230 pounds of fish—just to name a few!

Orthwein Animal Nutrition Center

The William R. Orthwein, Jr. & Laura Rand Orthwein Animal Nutrition Center's sleek, modern design incorporates many green design features making it one of only a handful of buildings in the St. Louis area to receive the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver certification. Energy efficient and environmentally friendly features, including a green roof composed of a mixture of colorful sedum (succulent all-weather plant) species and grasses, optimized heating and cooling systems, plus the extensive use of natural light and recycled materials, will ensure compliancy with the LEED rating systems.

This 10,000-square-foot facility offers high-tech capabilities. There are four food preparation stations in a stainless steel kitchen, cold and dry storage, giant walk-in coolers and oversized shelving, plus a loading dock for large food deliveries.

Stop by to peer in the large windows and see all that it takes to keep our animals well fed!

Medicinal Herb Gardens

In front of the Orthwein Animal Nutrition Center you will find several medicinal herb gardens. Mint, basil, lemongrass, rosemary, fennel and marjoram are offered as enrichment which encourages animals to exhibit species specific behaviors when encountering these new smells.

Nutrition Center Facts

  • The building is situated partially underground to assist in all-season temperature regulation.
  • Every month, the Nutrition department distributes 46,000 pounds of hay 14,000 pounds of fresh produce and 17,000 pounds of fish and meat.
  • Among the more exotic menu items are night crawlers and the larvae of flies and mosquitoes.
  • One Nutrition Center keeper moves 700 tons of food per year ( which is equal to 170 male hippos).
  • We stock a variety of fish and seafood including herring, mackerel, capelin, smelt, squid, shrimp and krill.
  • Capelin, a kind of fish, is caught only during a short window of time from late June to early August. The Zoo purchases its annual supply of approximately 100,000 pounds at this time.
  • Indoor silos keep our bulk feed in a regulated environment reducing the risk of molding due to constant temperature and humidity fluctuations present in traditional outdoor silos.
  • Four out of five volunteers at the Nutrition Center are engineers.
  • Primates (including humans) and guinea pigs share a dietary need for vitamin C, all other species can synthesize their own.