Oakland Zoo’s Chef
Meet the woman who keeps zoo animals fed, happy, and healthy.
From enormous elephants, to toothy tigers, to flocks of flamingos—Stacy Kyles has probably fed them all. But feeding over 600 animals is all in a day’s work for the Oakland Zoo’s chef.
It looks like any other industrial kitchen—stainless steel countertops, walk-in freezers, magnetic strips lined with sharp blades along the wall—except for the giant pallets of bananas, boxes of crickets and worms, and rows of buckets labeled with hyena, kuati, and meerkat.
With a degree in computer science, Kyles became the zoo chef after volunteering at the zoo on and off for 12 years. Her non-zoology background didn’t matter in the long run. “It actually turned out to be a business position because I keep track of the budget and what we are spending where. So, it turned into something I’m actually qualified for.”
All in a Day’s Work
Kyles starts work at 5:30 a.m. “On Wednesdays and Thursdays, I leave at 6 a.m. to go to the wholesale market at Jack London Square, where I spend an hour picking out different types of produce. Then, we load up the truck, come back, unload the truck into the big refrigerator outside. Then, I’m in [the kitchen], preparing the diets for the day.”
The Customer Is King
Kyles takes extreme care to meet each animal’s dietary needs—and special requests. “The vervet monkeys are very, very picky. They have a list, and I can’t give them the same thing within seven days. Squirrel monkeys love papaya, as long as it’s Hawaiian papaya. They do not like Mexican papaya. And I make the birds’ kebabs look beautiful,” she says, holding up a colorful veggie and fruit kebab, “because birds eat with their eyes.”
Setting the Standard
Whether she’s on the hunt for something new at the market to add diversity to the animals’ diets, searching to meet dietary restrictions—there’s a diabetic lemur on exhibit—or picking up a tasty treat like a femur bone for the carnivores, Kyles knows that every detail matters. “The type of food that the animals get—it’s the same quality that you find at restaurants and grocery stores. That’s the standard. It’s really high.” .