What’s on the menu tonight? For some animals at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, it could be leaves and branches from around the Central Ohio region, even Westerville.

This summer, the Parks and Recreation Department partnered with the Columbus Zoo to provide non-toxic trees, leaves and vegetation to feed the animals. Some of the edible plants (also known as “browse“) came from the Walnut Street Recreational Path Project. As part of the bike path improvements, trees had to be removed during the construction process. (NOTE: Trees removed during the recreational path improvement project are on a full replacement plan. See link for complete project details.)

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Cue Ann Lokai-Owens, Browse Horticulturist for the Columbus Zoo. Ann and Westerville Parks and Urban Forest Manager, Matthew Urley, worked together to utilize as much of the trees as possible from the project.

“We coordinated with our construction company and made sure Ann knew when to come out to pick up the browse. The zoo can use many parts of a tree including twigs, branches, leaves and even the trunk so it is great to have them out here,” said Matthew.

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On days when trees were scheduled for removal, Ann was there. As branches fell, Ann was quick to pick them up, cut them into five foot pieces and haul them into the truck. She would further prune the trees and take the material back to the zoo, all in an effort to stay green.

“We try to source food for the animals locally to fit our needs, said Ann.” We are very fortunate to get donations like this one; and the animals really benefit.”

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Ann was able to take browse from both Linden and Catalpa trees from the Walnut Street site. Many herbivores or plant-eating animals, like giraffes, moose and gorillas, snack on these trees as part of their regular diets.

But the ones that love Catalpa leaves the most – Langurs. Zoo staff even freeze Catalpa leaves so these monkeys can enjoy them in the winter too.

Silvered Langur Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Grahm S. Jones, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Silvered Langur
Photo Credit:  Grahm S. Jones, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

And the trees are more than just a tasty treat. “This is what the animals would be eating in the wild. The browse supplements their diet with a wide variety of nutrients including calcium and fiber,” said Ann.

This isn’t the first time the zoo has collected trees from the City, and won’t be the last. “This past year we gathered Willows that had to be removed in Westerville. We are excited to be able to continue this partnership this summer and in the future,” said Ann.

The first phase of the Walnut Street Recreational Path Project is about to come full circle. The bike path along the south side of Walnut Street between Hempstead Road and Spring Road is now complete and open to the public. New street trees are set to be planted and other finishing touches will be done mid-September. The second phase of the project is still in development. We’ll keep you posted with more updates this fall.

edited for blog post