Is it dangerous to share browse lists with other keepers?
Author: Louise Jakobsen
Keepers want to help one another and we are more than happy to share our successes so other animals can benefit. This includes sharing what plant material is offered to a collection’s animals.
Is there any harm in that? No, there aren’t any problems as such - as long a few guidelines are considered.
We have already discussed the importance of using botanical names when sharing browse lists and we know it is important to correctly identify plants to avoid feeding toxic plants.
Most of the time, the plant information shared among keepers is very harmless and shouldn’t pose any problems whatsoever. But there are occasions where one collection successfully feeds a fairly toxic plant to an animal but the same animal species may not necessarily cope with that particular plant at a different collection. The circumstances around how the animal is managed have a massive impact on how well the animal is coping with plant toxins. All plants have a certain amount of constituents within the plant tissue, some harmless, some harmful.
Wild animals have various ways of coping with these toxins including digestive adaptations and behavioural responses or strategies to expel, dilute or detoxify these constituents. Captive animals may not necessarily have the opportunity to develop these functions as it often requires controlled exposure and learning as well as opportunities to obtain organic minerals to bind certain toxins.
Going back to the animal being fed a plant species normally considered highly toxic; this animal may cope because the plant is only fed sparingly and sporadically as part of a varied diet, the animal may have free access to a variety of trees it can browse on and it may have access to large fields with a vast variety of wild-growing plants as well as a mixture of different soils. If this information isn’t shared when passing on the browse list and just say “we have fed this plant with no problem to this animal”, the receiving collection of that information may keep the animal on a bare dirt paddock with no free access to other browse and offering a diet not so varied. The plant may then pose serious risk to the health of that animal.
By all means, share all your experience you have gained with other keepers so we together can evolve our browse provision. But please make sure you give the whole package of information about the management and how the plant in question is offered so other collections can make the judgement as to whether they feel they can safely offer this plant that is known to be toxic in certain circumstances.
In future posts, we will look a little closer to plant toxicity, how animals learn and how wild animals cope with toxic plants.