How Zoo Atlanta’s Large Carnivores Chow Down At Mealtime

Chelsea is one of Zoo Atlanta's two tigers. For her, a sweet treat is milk out of a bottle.
Credit Courtesy of Zoo Atlanta
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WABE’s Amy Kiley visits Zoo Atlanta to learn how keepers safely feed large carnivores.

From giant pandas to Sumatran tigers, Zoo Atlanta’s large animals can have large appetites. Shuffling at least 20 pounds of plants a day to herbivores like pandas is enough of a chore, but what about large meat eaters? WABE looks into how Zoo Atlanta feeds its large carnivores.


A fossa is a weasel-like creature that climbs trees and often eats lemurs in the wild. 

Feeding Zoo Atlanta’s fossa, Logan, starts the way most carnivore feeding begins – with fences. Lead Carnivore Keeper Jenny Elgart says they keep humans and animals safe.

While Logan is outside in his exhibit area, Elgart sneaks a treat high up in his pen. “It’s the knuckle bone of a cow, and it doesn’t have a lot of meat on it. We monitor his diet pretty closely.”

Then, Elgart lets in Logan through a metal door that’s the zoo version of a pet flap. He scuffles in ands calls out. Since he’s a tree-climber, he knows how to knock the bone to the ground for easy munching.  When he’s full, Logan will head back outside.

Giant Otters

For giant otters, lunchtime involves splashing.  The holding building for otters Yzma and Bakairi is part pool and part concrete. They each get a bag of fish a day, and hand feeding helps with training.

Elgart stands on the other side of a fence from Yzma and holds up a fish. She explains about the otter, “She has to have good behavior, so no jumping, no vocalizing. We can target her, which means she just holds her head still … and then she gets her fish.” 

Elgart says encouraging animals to target like this makes it easy for keepers and vets to ensure they’re healthy.

The otters also like to fish or just bring their snacks to the water. When they’re done, they’ll go back outside to a larger pool.

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Sumatran Tigers

To feed the zoo’s female tiger, Chelsea, Keeper Katie Gatlin walks through the cats’ holding area to a fence at the back of the tiger exhibit. There, Chelsea almost seems like a house cat when Gatlin calls to the cat – and Chelsea doesn’t listen.

Gatlin bribes the 250-pound tiger with milk, and the cat not only walks over, she also obeys commands. To let Gatlin check her stomach, Chelsea stands on her back paws and stretches up against the fence.

Chelsea will even put her tail through the fence so the vet can draw blood –  when she feels like it.

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