Roxanna van Riemsdijk
As the coordinator of the animal kitchens at Antwerp ZOO and Planckendael ZOO, I am responsible for everything related to diets of our animals. An animal’s diet should not only provide in its nutritional needs; it should also stimulate natural behaviour. As a zoo animal nutritionist, I focus primarily on the composition of customised diets. There are four basic questions I always take into account:
- What does the animal eat in its natural habitat?
- How does its digestive system work?
- What do related animal species eat?
- What are the same species of animals fed at other zoos?
By putting together well-balanced diets, offering nutritional supplements and sharing my insights with other experts, I aim to contribute to a positive impact on the health and well-being of animals.
My primary task as the coordinator of animal nutrition at Antwerp ZOO and Planckendael ZOO is to facilitate the central operation of both animal kitchens, ensuring that the needs of the animals are met. The animals’ diets are put together in close collaboration with the zoo veterinarian, and adjusted if necessary. The right ingredients are expertly selected to ensure a well-balanced, healthy and nutritious menu for each animal. As a next step, I meet with the animal care coordinator and the relevant zookeepers to discuss the best way to feed the relevant animal in order to stimulate its natural behaviour.
AREAS OF INTEREST FOR RESEARCH
- Animal Nutrition and Physiology
- Fermentation and Gut Health
- Feed Formulation Science
My academic career started at the Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, where I obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Management and zoo animal nutrition in 2016. Wildlife Management focuses on the management of animal populations in the wild and their habitat in nature as well as in zoos with a view to retaining biodiversity and improving ecosystems. This study programme gave me the zoological expertise needed to understand the natural needs of animals. After this, I went on to study at Wageningen University, where I enrolled in a Master of Science programme. Here, I learned how to calculate the nutrient requirements of both non-production and production animals.
I started working for the Antwerp ZOO Society as the coordinator of animal kitchens in 2020. My first task concerned the management of the animal kitchen: setting up efficiently operating kitchens that met the needs of both the employees and animals of Antwerp ZOO and Planckendael ZOO. We subsequently developed from a decentralised kitchen to a centralised unit in order to ensure compliance with current legal requirements and promote the sustainability and efficiency of our operations. A good example of this is the digitalisation of our files, which allows the animal kitchen, the veterinarian, the animal care coordinator and the zookeepers to consult each animal’s diet at the click of a mouse.
In the past few years, I expanded my expertise as a nutritionist and am now responsible for putting together perfectly balanced and calculated diets that meet the nutritional needs of animals and thus promote their physical and mental well-being. I analyse the dietary needs of each animal and develop well-balanced dietary plans. Aside from that, I calculate the perfect ration for each animal to ensure that it gets all its essential nutrients. In my opinion, an optimised diet is a key aspect in preventing nutrition-related health problems in an animal, as well as in curing it of an illness without having to resort to medication.
Working as a nutritionist and the coordinator of a zoo animal nutrition department has always been my dream job.
- Active member of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) Nutrition Group (ENG) - EAZA Nutritioning Scientific Advisory Working Group
- Member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) Nutrition Scientific Advisory Group (NAG)
The mission of both groups is to promote the well-being of zoo animals through the application of scientific and biological knowledge in relation to nutrition and zoology to their everyday care.