MCCS 0523: Practical Zoo Nutrition Management

Mike Maslanka talks about the National Zoo's browse yard.

Mike Maslanka talks about the National Zoo’s browse yard.

Roughly 20 out of the more than 200 Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited zoos in the United States employing full time nutritionists, there exists a critical shortage of nutrition expertise at the vast majority of facilities within AZA. Similar institutions outside the US face the same challenges. Many of these institutions care for hundreds and in some cases thousands of different species, all with specific dietary needs that may even vary across seasons and reproductive conditions. Making nutritional decisions for a wide range of species from around the world, and overseeing the daily management of food purchase, storage and preparation is a complex and demanding task which must often be performed with little targeted training. However, the long-term sustainability of an animal collection, and the successful reproduction of breeding animals relies heavily on proper nutrition.

Because of the complexities and extensive experiential learning involved in the profession, this course is not designed “to create a zoo nutritionist in 5 days.” Rather, it will assist interested individuals in gaining knowledge and hands-on experience within one of the oldest zoo nutrition programs in the US. It is designed such that participants will develop an appreciation for a wide variety of topics within the field of zoo and wildlife nutrition, as well as some of the nuances of managing a commissary (food procurement and preparation) operation to support a zoo. This course will be taught by the Head of the Department of Nutrition Science at the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park (NZP), Mike Maslanka. He will be joined by members of his staff at NZP as well as other professional zoo nutritionists from AZA facilities and appropriate wildlife professionals. These instructors represent some of the most experienced zoo nutritionists, commissary managers, and researchers in the field of zoo and wildlife nutrition.

Barbara Toddes from the Philadelphia Zoo works with course participants on their diet evaluations.

Barbara Toddes from the Philadelphia Zoo works with course participants on their diet evaluations.

Through a combination of class/lecture information and applied experiential learning, the course will focus on three main aspects of nutrition program management – clinical nutrition, commissary management, and applied thinking/philosophy. It is designed to share successful nutrition philosophies, sound science and proven management approaches, and to foster an appreciation for the complexities associated with feeding animals in zoo settings. By the conclusion of the course, participants are expected to have knowledge of: commissary design and operations (centralized and de-centralized operation), nutrient and energy metabolism of zoo and wild animals, practical principles of feeding a wide variety of animals across all taxa, practical diet formulation and evaluation, basic commissary management (including positive staff management, emergency preparedness, cooperative purchasing, specification development, etc.). Through this process, the participants will also develop the problem solving thought processes to apply the knowledge gained to the nuances of their specific operations. The course will also include: 1) a debate session where participants will be required to research and support a thesis involving a current controversy in the field of zoo and wildlife nutrition, and 2) individual development of a comprehensive clinical diet plan for an animal/species in the current collection of each participant’s institution.

The course will be based at the National Zoo’s satellite facility in Front Royal, Virginia where 21 species of endangered/threatened mammal and bird species are managed in a unique captive setting. A full day will be spent at the National Zoo in Washington DC, and will include behind-the-scenes tours of the commissary operation, elephants and big cats. “Field” trips around the Front Royal campus will also be included as part of the out-of-classroom learning experience.

This course is open to graduate students as well as professionals, and will be most relevant for nutrition/animal science graduate students, zoo keepers and curators, commissary managers, nutritionists and veterinarians with some previous background/experience in nutrition. A limited number of seats will be allocated to non-zoo professionals on a first-come, first-served basis.

Prerequisites: Directed and demonstrated (via previous and/or current experience, professional or volunteer) interest in zoo and wildlife nutrition.

Previous Image
Next Image

info heading

info content



May 7-11, 2018


Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia

Application Procedure

Practical Zoo Nutrition Management is offered through the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation as a professional training course for 3 Continuing Education Units (CEUs). The 2018 offering of this course is currently full and applications are closed. Please check back here for 2019 dates.

Course Costs

Note that your acceptance to the course does not guarantee you a seat in the course. Seats are allocated as registration payments are received, and early registration is strongly encouraged to ensure your space in the course.

The total cost for this course is $1,781 (Course fee of $1400 + Housing and Dining Package of $381). Those applying as citizens of “less-developed” nations qualify for a reduced course fee of $850, making the total cost including housing (shared double room) and dining package $1,231. Click HERE to check if your country of citizenship qualifies you for the reduced course fee. Your total course payment includes:

  • Registration fees
  • Instruction, course manual, textbooks and other course materials
  • Airport pick-up and drop-off. Participants should plan to arrive to Dulles International Airport (IAD). Shuttle pick-up date at Dulles Airport will be Sunday, May 6, and the time will be 4:30pm (16:30h). Individuals whose flight options are limited should plan to arrive the night before (May 5) and book into overnight accommodation in the Dulles-Washington, DC vicinity, so they can meet this Sunday afternoon shuttle. Otherwise a taxi can be arranged for approximately $100. Our drop-off shuttle departs from SMSC (to IAD) on Saturday May 12 at 8am.
  • Daily full-service buffet at the SMSC Dining Commons – Dining begins with dinner on Sunday, May 6 and ends with breakfast on Saturday, May 12.
  • Housing at the SMSC Residential Facility, including a shared room with bathroom (single rooms available at extra cost) – Lodging begins Sunday night, May 6 and check out is Saturday, May 12.


With course coordinator’s written approval in advance of registration/payment, local participants may elect to stay off campus, waive the housing and dining package, and commute to this course. Meals in the Dining Commons can then be purchased individually as needed.

For more information