The latest exhibit to open at the Memphis Zoo, Zambezi River Hippo Camp, is home to four Nile crocodiles—three females and one male. If you’re thinking these animals are like your regular ’ol crocodiles or alligators, think again! Nile crocs can grow up to 20 feet long and weigh up to 1,600 pounds. That’s nearly 1,000 pounds more than your average alligator!
Aside from their massive size, the way they eat is unique as well. In the wild, Nile crocs are capable of launching themselves out of the water to catch low-flying birds. Similarly in captivity, the animals dive down to the bottom of their pool and shoot out of the water like a rocket to grab their food. How in the world did they learn to do this with their zookeepers? We chatted with Memphis Zoo animal curator Farshid Mehrdadfar to get the inside scoop.
How did they learn?
First, Farshid and Zambezi Hippo River Camp area lead, Rebecca Koller, had to establish consistency and cooperation with the quartet. To do this, they spent time observing how the crocs interact with each other, how they respond to human interaction, and determining what motivates them. Understanding these things were crucial first steps, as it was very important to Farshid and Rebecca to make sure that asking the animals to jump out of the water to grab their food was something that they were comfortable with doing in their exhibit.
Farshid & Rebecca quickly learned that the Nile crocs are extremely intelligent. Since the animals came from a zoo where there was no training, it was a pleasant surprise to see the learning process move so quickly. During training sessions, Farshid and Rebecca fed each croc individually, paying attention to how well he or she responded to cues.
What do the crocodiles eat?
The Nile crocs chow down on beef and whole chickens that are of similar, if not higher quality, as the chicken you buy from the grocery store. Surprisingly, they don’t care for fish. In fact, hundreds of tilapia are swimming in the pool inside the same exhibit. Farshid jokes that the crocs have gotten used to the “room service” of being fed chicken and beef by their keepers, so they don’t feel the need to go “shopping” for the tilapia.
How much do they eat?
The crocs consume a whole chicken throughout the week, which is broken up into multiple feedings. This may seem a bit conservative, but it’s important to understand that Nile crocs are not very active by nature. Because of this, their bodies do not require a great deal of food, unlike a lion or tiger that exerts a lot of energy throughout the day.
Can Zoo visitors see croc feedings?
Yes! On Saturdays at 12:30 p.m., the crocs are fed in front of Zoogoers. Since Zambezi has underwater viewing portals, guests are able to see the crocs dive down to the bottom of their pool before launching out of the water to grab the beef or chicken hanging over the water. Next time you’re at the Zoo, be sure to stop by and see these monstrous creatures. They are something else!