10 Mar 2018

Exotic milk a winning formula

From This Way Up, 12:35 pm on 10 March 2018

Milking a rhino, giraffe or a bat wouldn’t be an easy job – so the Australian company making ‘baby food’ for the young of all these, and more, is in demand.

No species is too obscure for the family-run firm, Wombaroo, to recreate its milk in the lab.

It supplies milk replacements for a menagerie of exotic animals to zoos, animal parks, and pet owners around the world.

Baby giraffe (Photo by Juan Carlos Gomez on Unsplash)

Baby giraffe (Photo by Juan Carlos Gomez on Unsplash) Photo: (Photo by Juan Carlos Gomez on Unsplash)

In New Zealand, its ‘bats' milk’ has been fed to a baby lesser short-tailed bat at Auckland Zoo, and its tailored diets are used to help endangered bird species including the kakapo.

Gordon Rich runs the company, set up by his father Brian, a biochemist.

Rich says his father was interested in birds and discovered there wasn’t much nutritional science behind their feeding.

He came up with some formulations “on the kitchen bench at home” and eventually presented a paper at a wildlife veterinary conference in 1984. “There was a huge amount of interest. I think people had seen a lot of problems with our native animals.”

The firm became known for being able to formulate products for unusual animals and started to get enquiries from zoos and breeders of domestic animals and Australian native animals.

It has a standard 24 species-specific milk replacements

The company also does custom-designed milks, when it gets the call.

“And it’s usually on the weekends or late at night when a zoo has got a strange animal that’s bred and they suddenly need some milk.”

The latest is a zoo near Adelaide which has a giraffe that isn’t nursing her newborn. “It’s putting on about 10kg a week. They have to get up on a stepladder to feed it, it’s over seven feet tall at the moment.”

It's also done formulas for lions, tigers, cheetahs, elephants and rhinos.

Luckily for the company, it's not necessary to physically milk an animal to work out the formula for the species - the information is mostly in published papers.