Hi I’m Megan and I’m one of the research students here at the zoo. I’m currently on a placement year from Cardiff University, where I am studying for a degree in zoology. I’m undertaking a research project to analyse the diets of two carnivore species that we have here: the cusimanse and the Asian small-clawed otters. Nutrition is just as important for animals as it is for us – good, as well as poor, nutrition can have a significant impact on physical and mental wellbeing, and therefore I’m ensuring that their diets are nutritionally balanced to optimise their health and welfare.

We have a band of five cusimanse here at the zoo. They were originally fed a diet of mainly meat-based feed items including chicks, various insects, minced beef, mice, rat pups, raw egg, and some vegetables. This diet was too high in fat, so I’ve made some changes to ensure that vegetables make up the majority of their feed – they’re fed vegetables in both their morning and lunch time feeds, with a rotation of mice, locusts, and fish in their afternoon feed. Although fish wouldn’t necessarily be part of their diet in the wild, it is a good source of unsaturated fats while still providing protein. Initially, they weren’t too happy when they realised they would be getting vegetables for breakfast instead of their usual chicks – but in the long term it will ensure they remain healthy and will help to provide the variety of nutrients that they need.

There are eight members of our otter family, and currently these guys are fed a diet of chicks, mice, minced beef, hard-boiled eggs, and quail. To make their diet a closer reflection of what they would eat in the wild, I’m creating a diet that is more fish-based, hopefully with a range of white fish, oily fish, and shellfish, as well as some vegetables. At the moment I’m also target training the otters, daily, to stand on weighing scales so that I can see if their diet is keeping them at a healthy weight.

Alongside these diet changes I’m also videoing and observing the cusimanse and the otters at feeding times to see exactly who is eating what, as certain individuals in the group may eat more than others!

The nature of my project means my day-to-day activities can vary greatly, and as well as my research there are always other things to be done. Usually I have to weigh a lot of food, which can sometimes take quite a lot of time - especially if I have to weigh lots of different chopped vegetables! I also have to conduct behaviour observations to make sure the animals are happy on their new diet, watch over videos of their feeding times, and write up my project. As well as the cusimanse and the otters, I also analyse the nutritional content of the diets of a range of species in the zoo, using Zootrition (for those of you that don’t know, this is a dietary management software), for keepers so they know exactly what nutrients their animals are receiving.

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