What is browse, and why is it so important for Auckland Zoo?

Browse is what we refer to as edible vegetation - such as twigs, branches, shoots and leaves. Being high in fibre, browse is an important and nutritious part of an animal's diet. From the tallest mammal on earth, the giraffe, to Aotearoa New Zealand’s giant wētāpunga, browse benefits so many species at the Zoo.

One of the ways our keepers utilise browse is to help encourage an animal’s natural foraging behaviour. For example, in the wild orangutans are known to make tools from items they find around them. When we provide leafy branches to the orangutans at the Zoo, they’re able to strip the leaves down to create helpful implements. This enables them to extract a delicious food item, like lentils or pureed vegetables within a frozen pinecone.

Our keepers will also utilise browse to create natural areas where animals can hide or make perches and branches are a necessary part of a porcupine’s diet to help wear down their ever-growing incisor teeth.
With so many different varieties of animals to care for, each species has its specific nutritional requirements, and many of the Zoo's larger animals, like rhinos, giraffes, and elephant, have big appetites. For example, an elephant can eat between 149 and 169 kg of vegetation daily! The reason they need to eat to so much is due to their inefficient digestive system as they can only absorb around 44 percent of the food they ingest – this means they must consume a large amount of food to gain all of the nutrients they need.

So how does the Zoo get enough fresh browse to feed the animals each day? Rain or shine, we have a specialist-trained browse team dedicated to sourcing vegetation in sustainable ways.

Meet our amazing browse team: Ruth, Yannick and Zephyr. Our passionate and dedicated team collects an average of 20 Ute-loads a week of browse, which is then separated and distributed around the sections of the Zoo.

Browse Coordinator Ruth joined Auckland Zoo January 2023. Her career started in fashion, but her love for plants, animals, and conservation led Ruth to study environmental and biological sciences at the University of Auckland. She also worked as a ranger in the Waitākere Ranges and as a field worker in ecological restoration, before landing her job here at Auckland Zoo.

"It's an incredible place to work. It's the variety that I love. We travel all around Auckland collecting browse and meeting wonderful people from our wider community. I also enjoy working closely with the keepers, learning from their expertise and getting feedback on what browse is working for each species."

"Recently, we welcomed the arrival of female Bornean orangutan Daya, from the Netherlands. Some of the vegetation that Daya liked to eat in the Netherlands isn’t available in New Zealand. So, together with the primate team, we have been figuring out what browse Daya enjoys. She is really enjoying Strelitzia (Giant bird of paradise) at the moment.”

“One of my favourite insects is the wētāpunga and I was surprised at how much browse they consume. We deliver a trailer load to the ectotherm team three days a week. This feeds around 200 wētāpunga during off peak breeding season (winter). But during breeding season (summer) their browse intake can triple in quantity.

They love munching on native plants like Coprosma (taupata and karamū) and Pseudopanax (whauwhaupaku/five finger). Every day there is an opportunity to learn something new, which makes the job extremely rewarding," Ruth explains.

One of my favourite insects is the wētāpunga and I was surprised at how much browse they consume! We deliver a trailer load to the ectotherm team three days a week. This feeds around 200 wētāpunga during off peak breeding season.

Ruth Neilsen - Auckland Zoo's Browse Coordinator

Fresh is best, and providing newly-cut browse is much more nutritionally valuable to the animals. This means the team is always out collecting spray-free browse with the help of our generous, green-fingered community in Auckland.

Around half of our browse comes from plantations set up many years ago as a collaboration between Auckland Council parks and Auckland Zoo. These plantations provide us with a reliable and sustainable supply of Coprosma, a species enjoyed by almost all of the animals at Auckland Zoo.  

With spring at our doorstep, we are doing a callout for the browse team. We are on the lookout for feijoa branches (Feijoa sellowiana) tree lucerne (Cytisus proliferus) puka (Meryta sinclairii), lilly pilly (Syzygium sp.) and hibiscus (Hibiscus sp.). If you have any of these plants and wish to donate to Auckland Zoo please do so here.

Please note – all browse/plants for donation must be pesticide and spray-free. We are unable to pick up any browse donations outside of Auckland City. Deliveries can be made to Auckland Zoo, please contact the browse team for delivery times and locations.