Q&A with Lisa Cuffy, Columbus Zoo Animal Nutrition Assistant

Anthony Dominic
Lisa Cuffy is an animal nutrition assistant at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

How do you formulate diets? They are formulated by our manager, the vets, the curators, the keepers. A lot goes into what makes a diet: state of health, disease, whether they're young, old, happy, sad, pregnant, breeding. We start off with the basic things-what they eat, the area they're from-and we try to recreate that based on what we have access to in Ohio.

Who has the trickiest diet? I'd say the echidna. We prepare a gruel with the the fattiest beef we can find. Vitamins are mixed in there, replicating nutrients they'd find in Australia, and the beef is what they find palatable. It looks like a pink meat milkshake. Or our feeder animals, like crickets. If they jumped into water, they would drown. So we have a little substance they jump on, extract water out of, and there's calcium in the water. So when an animal eats the cricket, they're getting that added calcium.

Any other unusual substances you work with? One of the many things we have in dry storage is glitter. We use that for animals housed together and maybe if one of them is sick, we have different colors, so we'll give each of them their own color. It goes through their system, and when it comes out, you get your answer.

What's your craziest on-the-job story? (Laughs.) Years ago, we had a constipated manatee. I was making psyllium balls, testing it out to find the best consistency, and I inadvertently breathed up a lot of the powder. How much is the manatee-3,000 pounds? And at the time I was only 150 pounds, so me sniffing that affected me for about the next month. So the rule is, now, you must wear a mask with any of the powdered substances. You could say there's a little extra fiber in there.

Little-known facts about Lisa:

Cuffy's family is from Trinidad and Tobago, where she lived during her middle school years.

She's worked at the zoo for 17 years and has been an animal nutritionist for 14 years.