RZSS carries out applied research and collaboration projects on aspects of zoo animal nutrition. These include the feeding value of browse (tree and shrub leaf and twig material) which is fed to browsing herbivores. Since 2010 different kind of leaf material from a range of trees and shrubs has been analysed from samples supplied three per annum by The Zoological Society London Zoo. The knowledge that comes from this is shared with the Zoo community and other interested parties via a web data base developed within the BIAZA Plant Working Group. This has significantly added to the use and understanding of these plants as food items for browsing herbivores.
RZSS also offers a feed evaluation service particularly for grass hays, Lucerne haylage and browse silages and can give a consultancy service to other zoos on the feed they use.
Analysis is performed through the use of Near Infra Red Spectroscopy [NIRS]. Edinburgh Zoo was the first zoo in the UK to purchase NIRS for this purpose and the state of the art equipment involves passing a beam of infra red light through a prepared sample. This technique avoids the use of 'wet chemistry' which often involves corrosive and toxic chemicals - although the spectra produced by NIRS are referenced to the results of analysis by traditional wet chemistry.
The nutritional profile includes Dry Matter, Crude Protein, Neutral Detergent Fibre, Acid Detergent Fibre, Total Ash, Ether Extract and sugars.
In partnership with Aunir, RZSS has pioneered the development of NIRS to analyse bamboo leaves, stems and shoots and with Haith’s Pro (a major supplier of bird seed and diets) an application for bird seed. Additional projects include assessing nutritional differences in species of eucalyptus offered to koalas, and providing nutritional information for the Beaver re-introduction project in the Knapdale Forest. Since 2011, analysis of leaf and stem samples of Bamboo varieties eaten by the pandas has been carried out in order to look at the changing composition throughout the year. One of the aims of doing so is to attempt to identify whether there are nutritional cues within the stems and leaves of particular varieties at different times of the year which trigger a switch from leaf to stem eating or from one variety to another. This work is on-going and involves other partners in the UK and China.