This week’s episode of A Growing Passion takes us behind the scenes with the San Diego Zoo and Zoo Safari Park’s amazing horticulture staff. My long time friend Stephanie Shigematsu is the Zoological Society’s Curator of Horticulture, which means she oversees everything plants. The love Stephanie and her staff have for their work is both infectious in inspiring.
My history with these two San Diego institutions started in the 1990s. Back then, I wrote interpretive signs for plant and bird exhibits. I would spend hours researching kookaburras and hornbills, coral trees and cycads. I loved learning about each exotic plant and animal. The big challenge was condensing the information into the 40- or 50-word limit for each small sign, but that was also part of the fun.
Fast forward to today and once again, I get to interpret what’s at the zoo.
So this week, I get to show you the zoo’s impressive Cycad and Aloe collections, the stunning orchid house (open to the public one Sunday a month), and spend some time with the “browse team.”
The browse team is a dedicated group of people who spend their days growing, harvesting, and preparing plants for feeding and entertaining the animals. Some of the plants are grown offsite at “browse farms,” while the rest is actually harvested from the Zoo and Zoo Safari Park landscapes.
They supply animals whose diets are strictly one kind of plant – like the koalas who eat only eucalyptus or the pandas who eat only bamboo. For giraffes, tortoises, and other animals, freshly cut plants are supplemental to their diets. The branches, trunks and other plant parts also keep them entertained and occupied.
You’ll meet Browse Specialist Sirena Aboumrad and her mighty machete. I was really impressed to see how, with one big swoosh, this small woman fells a huge banana stalk and loads it on a truck. Her colleague Craig Racicot transports Sirena’s harvest to the processing area where it is cut, bundled, and prepared for animal delivery.
It was fun to explore the browse farm near the Zoo Safari Park in Escondido too. Browse Supervisor Adam Graves toured me through Acacia, Eucalyptus, and other trees and shrubs his crew grows on eight acres. Some of it even goes to other zoos around the country where it’s too cold to grow the plants their animals need.
That’s just part of this week’s show; there’s much much more. Be sure to tune in!
— Nan Sterman