In captivity it is the responsibility of the crocodilians keeper to offer a balanced
diet that will maintain the animal’s fitness. Keepers rarely have access to the smorgasbord available to wild crocodilians
but a suitable variety of domesticated foods are available and a varied diet can be proffered for the captive crocodilians.
Each food has a range of amino acids, vitamins, and minerals that differ from the others. By offering a variety of food items
it helps to ensure that the crocodilian is getting all that it needs and is not suffering from any subtle nutritional deficiencies.
In wild crocodilians the vast majority of food items are consumed whole. The subtle benefit of this is that
whatever the prey animal had consumed prior to being eaten is passed on and digested by the crocodilian. This virtually ensures
a wide spectrum of vitamin, minerals, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates the crocodilian needs for health and proper growth.
As captives whole prey animals can perform the same function. Whatever the prey animal has eaten prior to being fed will be
passed on to the crocodilian. In the reptile hobby this is called gut loading and is a principle used extensively by keepers
of insect eating animals. The same basic idea can be applied to animals that primarily eat vertebrate food items.
Lean incomplete meats can be used but their imbalances should be figured into the overall dietary regimen.
There is often a temptation to use these easy to acquire and inexpensive food items in place of the more expensive whole animals.
A properly thought out diet can balance nutrition and cost without sacrificing quality. With proper supplementation even an
incomplete food item can be improved. As a general rule the diet should consist of approximately 50% whole quality food items
and the remainder spread across a variety of varying choices. ‘Red’ meats seem to produce healthier looking animals
and research has shown them to breed better than those fed on fish or ‘white’ meat diets. Fish provide important
elements to the crocodilians diet and while they should not be fed exclusively they should be a part of an overall dietary
and storing food
basic crocodilian diet in captivity is usually comprised of poultry, beef, rodents, and fish. Larger animals may appreciate
the variety provided by the feeding of rabbits, pigs, or goats as prey. Fortunately for modern crocodilian keepers finding
food for even large crocodilians is often easier than finding food for large constricting snakes. A walk into any neighborhood
supermarket will provide many good choices for the crocodilian keeper. It is often possible to acquire large amounts of chicken
or beef directly from the stores manager at a discount price. In some instances food may be given to the keeper if it is deemed
unfit for human consumption. Some crocodilian facilities have been able to make use of the misfortune of poultry truck drivers.
It seems on occasion a truck carrying large quantities of various poultry on the way to the supermarket will have some form
of mishap. The poultry contained within the vehicle, by law, is deemed unfit for human consumption. The chicken company must
then destroy the load or if a lucky crocodilian facility is around have it delivered for low or no cost. It’s a win/win
scenario, the company saves the cost of destroying the chicken, and the crocodilian facility gets free food.
A large number of southern
United States crocodilian farms make use of the native nutria as a food item. This
is akin to a hobbyist using the more normal rodents (rats and mice) as prey. Rodents are a very good food source and when
offered in their complete form gives a crocodilian a very balanced nutrition. Rodents can be ordered from a variety of suppliers
listed in the backs of herpetological magazines or via the Internet.
are a popular and well-received crocodilian food. A visit to most pet stores or fish bait stores will allow the keeper to
see a few varieties of ‘feeder’ fish. Most pet stores focus on goldfish while the bait store will focus on minnows.
A third option is fish farms that breed fish for restocking lakes and ponds. It may be possible to acquire a multitude of
species for a relatively inexpensive price. They will even deliver the fish to you if sufficient quantity is ordered. Large
catfish or tilapia is a good source of food for large sub adult and adult animals. Both species are farm raised and available
for a moderate price.
It should be mentioned that
fish have a few disadvantages as a food item and perhaps should be used less frequently than other food sources in a captive
crocodilians diet. A primary disadvantage to a fish based diet is that fresh and frozen fish often contain large amounts of
the enzyme thiaminase. And as a continued downside freezing appears to increase concentrations of thiaminase in the tissue
of the fish. Needless to say frozen fish should be used sparingly in the diet of a properly cared for captive crocodilian.
If you must maintain crocodilians on a regular fish diet it is important to use a supplement of vitamin B1in the animal’s
diet. Of course not all fish contain thiaminase, but if you include thiaminase possessing fish in the diet it is important
to also use proper supplementation.
Another and perhaps
more serious problem in regards to fish is that of fish oil. Crocodilians fed a large proportion of fish in their diet are
prone to steatites, which results from a vitamin E deficiency. As the fish oils break down the pigments result in the death
of fat cells and inflammation in the crocodilian. If the crocodilian is not properly treated and the diet corrected the condition
can rapidly become fatal. The bottom-line for good health in a captive crocodilian is that fish should be a part, and preferably
a small part, of a varied diet.
perhaps overlooked, food source is local hunters and wildlife rescue organizations. Often at the end of a season a successful
game hunter may have more venison than his family can use. If it has been in his freezer for a while it is usually possible
to have it donated for use in a crocodilians diet. Once word gets out that an outlet such as this exists a steady flow of
wild game for food often follows. In the south wild boar is a very good, very common alternative food source. Many wildlife
rescue organizations get many offers of meat donations. Acquainting yourself and perhaps volunteering with these organizations
can obtain a steady supply of ‘free’ food for a collection of crocodilians vastly reducing the costs associated
with keeping the reptiles.
Whatever food sources
a keeper chooses it may be necessary to store large amounts of crocodilian food as to make the process of feeding the beasts
cost effective. The acquisition of a large freezer specifically for crocodilian food makes it easier to purchase a bulk of
food at discount prices. The freezer also gives you piece of mind knowing you have several weeks or months of food stored
crocodilians will require little in the way of actual preparation in regards to a food item. Most crocodilians can be fed
uncooked prey and if it is a whole food item it should remain intact. It has been mentioned by several keepers and hobbyists
that the skin of uncooked chicken may be removed to lower its fat content. This is an option but perhaps one with dubious
benefits. A well-rounded crocodilian diet will not rely so heavily on one food item and hence a continuous need to lower the
animal’s dietary fat should not be present.
is advisable to offer captive crocodilians fresh food items. There is a tendency to feed large captive carnivores such as
crocodilians food that is often unfit for human consumption. This approach is certainly cheaper and will stretch an owners
funding further but ultimately may adversely affect the health of your captives. While the urge to purchase outdated or condemned
human food items may be a temptation it is one best resisted as a sick crocodilian will be more expensive to nurse back to
health than the proper food item would have initially cost.
in crocodilians may provide the benefit of ‘filling in the holes’ that the primary diet is providing. Truthfully,
a whole animal diet should provide all the vitamins and minerals that a crocodilian needs for growth and vitality but variances
exist in how prey animals are raised.
younger crocodilians, in particular hatchlings, additional multivitamin or calcium may ensure the animals are receiving the
proper base materials for complete bone growth. It is important not to over use supplements. With adult animals fed on whole
prey animal’s supplementation may never be necessary although the use of a good multivitamin once weekly to biweekly
will help prevent any shortfalls in the animal’s base diet.
supplement used can come from a variety of sources. Many animal retailers supply various powders that can be used to ‘dust’
food items before feeding to a captive crocodilian. A very inexpensive and effective way to supplement a crocodilians diet
is to place a human multivitamin inside a food item. The crocodilian then ingests the tablet when the food is swallowed. This
has the added benefit of not washing of in the pool when the crocodilian submerges, something which is almost inevitable with
the various powders that dust the crocodilians food.
methods for different size animals
crocodilians is one of the most pleasing, exciting, and dangerous aspects of maintaining and interacting with crocodilians
in captivity. To be so close as to feel the rush and sound of a crocodilian’s jaws is a familiarity few humans are able
to experience. It is both fascinating and exciting. The protocol for feeding crocodilians is largely dependent on the size
of the animals being fed. It is obviously safer to feed hatchlings than it is adult animals. It should be stated that almost
invariably captive crocodilians will begin to associate their keeper’s presence with the possibility of a meal. This
means that captive animals are generally more aggressive and bold than their wild counterparts having come to see man as a food source rather
than something to be feared. With this fact in mind it is best to have the keeper’s safety in mind during any attempt
to feed captive crocodilians.
Hatchlings and juvenile crocodilians present little in the way of actual danger to a keeper. However
many of the feeding habits the crocodilian will follow for a lifetime are ingrained in young captives. As a general rule it
is good to allow crocodilians to feed off of a platform of some sort situated at the waters edge. Sub adults and adults can be fed from a platform, tongs, or elevated wire. It may be necessary in the case
of large and aggressive adult crocodilians to have an elevated or enclosed platform for the
keeper to keep out of the reach of the crocodilians being fed.
Many private keepers like
to feed their smaller crocodilians by hand or via tongs. This is an entertaining practice but often unwise as crocodilians
fed in this manner often ‘bull’ rush their keepers as adults. Feeding off of a ledge will generally help prevent
the ‘bull’ rushing associated with hand or tong feeding but will not prevent an outgoing crocodilian from moving
towards it’s caretaker with the anticipation of being fed. With this in mind it is advisable to use tongs to place the
food on the feeding ledge. Some species, such as Nile crocodiles, are more aggressive in
their feeding responses than others but all should be treated with caution during the excitable time of feeding. Injuries
related to the keeping of crocodilians are virtually synonymous with feeding or handling errors on the part of the keeper.
Always be aware of your position and the position of the crocodilian within the enclosure.
Typically hatchling and young crocodilians that are spending energy on rapid growth will benefit from daily
or at least every other day feedings. This will generally result in four or more feedings per week. Since the items being
fed are small the crocodilian can ingest food with a greater frequency. As the animal matures and food item size increases
digestion may take longer ad the frequency of feedings may be reduced.
should also be noted that captive crocodilians have a tendency towards becoming quite portly. Some may in fact be called obese.
Rather than specifically going by a hard and fast feeding rulebook each keeper should observe their individual charges and
assess their physical condition daily. An animal that is overweight should not be fed in the same manner as a trim specimen.
and time of year may affect a crocodilians appetite. American alligators kept outdoors will often not feed annually from October
through April, and perhaps even longer in some parts of their range. A healthy crocodilian can weather periods of extended
fasting with no difficulty.
Parasites in food
If a good supplier of whole animals
is available and the remaining food items come from human food providers the chances of a captive crocodilian encountering
parasites in their food is greatly diminished. Pork is known to carry roundworms and the feeding of raw pork should be avoided.
Any source of food taken from the wild and fed raw has a greater chance of bringing parasites into your crocodilian than a
dietary item procured from normal avenues. Fish, reptiles, and amphibians are notorious for carrying parasites that can infect
your captive. Many of these parasites can be removed by the heat of cooking; unfortunately this often makes the food less
nutritious and unpalatable for a crocodilian. As a general rule it is best to not feed anything that is questionable as to
it’s quality of parasite load. Worming and veterinary bills for crocodilians are expensive and this is area where a
mistake in the health of your animal is easily avoided.