What a "cool" job!
When you and your mom or dad make a cake, what sort of ingredients do you use? Flour? Sugar? Vanilla? Eggs? Well, how does a yam cake sound? If you're a giant panda, it sounds pretty good—just ask one of the Zoo or Safari Park's nutritionists, whose many talents include making special occasion "cakes" for the animals! And even though they don't actually "bake" these cakes, there's a lot of preparation that goes into them. Debbie Lowe, Kelly Lee, and Debbie Tanciatco are members of the San Diego Zoo's Nutritional Services Department and ice-cake makers!
"We start on each cake two to three weeks ahead of the big day," explains Debbie Lowe, lead nutritional service assistant at the San Diego Zoo. "We put a lot of love in our creations and truly enjoy this aspect of our jobs!"
And the lucky animals who get to eat and play with these cakes, such as elephants, rhinos, monkeys and other primatesMembers of the most highly developed order of animals, including humans, monkeys, and apes., and pandas, truly enjoy their treats.
Building ice cakes is seriously fun business. The makers get to use kitchen-type tools, along with drills!
The cakes start as water to be frozen in some sort of container. The cake makers sometimes put decorative bamboo leaves and flowers to freeze around the edge as a border. They then put fruits and veggies and other treats in the water to freeze, making a big "goodie-cicle" for the animals. What types of treats used depends on the special diets that each animalAny living thing that is not a plant. Most animals can move about freely. All use plants or other animals as food. All have sensory organs. has. For the pandas, the cake makers use yams, carrots, apples, bamboo, and honey.
Sometimes the frozen goodie is simply a block shape; other times, like for birthdays and big celebrations, the nutritionists will make several "layers" of ice cake, creating multi-tiered delights! Food coloring can make the ice extra pretty, and these cake makers have lots of tricks up their sleeves to make the cakes as fun and fanciful as possible.
"Cake molds, ice cube trays in various shapes, and even cookie molds can be used to create fun shapes for the cake decorations," Debbie Lowe says. "We brainstorm to try to come up with different looks every year."
The cakes can weigh anywhere from 50 to 150 pounds, but sometimes even the bigger ones are no match for the excited animals who love to knock their cakes around and even roll on them! It's easy to tell how much the critters really love their "cake," especially when they end up wearing it!