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32Network She I Autumn/Winter 2012There are few top chefs that use frozen bloodworm listed amongst their winning ingredients but Andrea Fidgett is one of them.Move over Nigella, Jamie Oliver and the Roux brothers because Andrea not only has recipes with a difference but is the only food expert of her calibre in the UK and has produced a recipe book that is used globally as a reference point .Her secret?. Andrea is Chester Zoo's nutritionist and has produced the only recipe book that catalogues the best meals to feed all manner of wild animals from fish to elephants.She has designed diets for over 400 different species and is continually adding to it as research continues to find the most nutritious meals to feed animals from the wild and now in captivity.When she was seven Andrea was given an encyclopaedia which sparked her interest in animals. From there she gained a degree in zoology at Glasgow and an opportunity arose to work at Gerald Durrell's zoo in Jersey where she became interested in the nutritional side.Whilst there she was assigned a project to look at animal behaviour and the link with their eating habits."It was really a turning point for me. I was surprised at how little research had been done into the nutritional, side," said Andrea who also got to meet Durrell. "He was very inspirational. He always made an effort to speak to the staff whether it was about what they were working with or an anecdote," she recalled.Her initial project involved studying the eating habits of the St Lucia parrot who were not thriving and breeding as well as hoped in captivity. A number of the parrots were suffering from gout which is often linked to an excess of protein.To help in her research Andrea sought the help of a leading nutritionist in America who ended up being a major inspiration and influence on Andrea's career. "She really opened my mind and made me realise how poorly nutrition was studied. She became my mentor."Andrea's starting point was to look at what the parrots were being given to eat and discovered they were being offered about 50 types of food which was about five times what they needed. "There was a massive amount of choice but too much of it. They were being given the food that we had available but not the food that would be available to them in the wild," explained Andrea.So she started a painstaking process of measuring foods, weighing them and documenting what was being eaten. Gradually she whittled down the choice and amount of food. After a year her work was rewarded when the parrots bred and the incidents of gout stopped."It is a great feeling and I can still remember all the detail 20 years on. Even now when you are successful it is a terrific feeling.There had been a succession of deaths and during my three years there were no more." said Andrea, "it is an amazing feeling."Spurred on and encouraged be her mentor she did a Masters in nutrition before going back to Jersey to study lemurs.A four year stint studying for a PhD followed and Andrea's mentor came over to visit and encouraged Andrea to push for the creation of a job as one of the first animal nutritionists in Britain."When she came over from the USA it was at a time when nutrition was gaining prominence in animal husbandry," recalled Andrea.WILD about foodAndrea Fidgett is a foodie with a difference. Andrea Williams finds out why.They were being given the food that we had available but not the food that would just be available to them in the wild

www.networkshe.com33need for a balanced diet. The detail includes quantity right down to the method of how to prepare the food and serve and also includes pictures.Despite studying many animals Andrea still has one ambition she would like to fulfil. "I would love to go and study the giant tortoise in the Galapagos islands."Not only would this be a treat for her but for them going on her past recipe successes a cordon bleu experience for the tortoises."The difficult thing is how do you tell a giraffe is getting taller because it's head can be at any angle," she explained. " To overcome this we started to measure the giraffe from its feet to its shoulder rather than up to its neck and sure enough over a period of time they gained weight at a sensible rate and they grew taller."Good communication and sharing knowledge is a vital part of Andrea's job as she needs to communicate well with the keepers. In addition it is the communication with all the other animal specialists around the world which has built up into a valuable network. Andrea's work has also developed into helping create certain foods to be produced at a factory level for animals. She has helped to tailor make or customise food pellets through her research into nutrition.Her expertise is called upon from zoos around the globe. "I probably spend about a third of my time travelling around the world each year and doing lectures," said Andrea.But perhaps what is most in demand is in her animal recipe book which is a fascinating insight into what the animals Her mentor helped lobby for the creation of a post in the UK and Chester was the zoo that took up the gauntlet and Andrea was given the post as nutritionist. That was 10 years ago and now her expertise is called upon throughout the world.Naturally, with any new type of position, there was some suspicion as to its value amongst some keepers and general uncertainty about its value and benefits, "a lot of people thought I was just a theorist coming in but most of my work and training has been based on the practical side.It was a huge learning curve for me and there was pressure because it was the first position of its kind I had to prove myself."Proving her worth came when Andrea got the chance to work with the giraffes at Chester and their keepers. It was a tall order in more ways than one because her job as a nutritionist was to help the giraffes grow taller."My starting point is not necessarily what's wrong but how could things be improved," said Andrea. Chester had three healthy males and two females, a third male arrived of a similar age and the keepers noticed the new giraffe was twice the size of the two currently at Chester."Our two were smaller but we wanted them to get taller," explained Andrea.A process of examining their food and looking at their social habits began with Andrea working in close collaboration with the giraffe keepers. The keepers are always the most important link because they are the ones who have the most insight into the animals they are looking after because they are with them each day. In addition to their food intake studying their social habits revealed that the two pregnant females were dominating the younger males and getting the lion's share from the food troughs."So the most obvious thing was to split them up and feed the males separate from the females," said Andrea.Weekly weigh-ins charted the success but the zoo also had to measure how tall the giraffes were to get an accurate picture of improvement.Animal food billHow much do we pay for crickets?For a 1,000 adult crickets we pay £16. We buy 2,000 adults a week. However, we breed 50,000 - 70,000 a week ourselves in our self-sustaining colony.How much do we pay for locusts? They cost 6-8p each and we buy 2,000 per week. How much do we pay for staple veg like potatoes and carrots? Every Monday, we send a three tonne truck to leading supermarket chains and collect carrots/potatoes. We pay a token payment but really it is pretty much free.What's our most expensive pellet? The most expensive pellet is for the leaf-eater primate at £25 for 12 and a half kilos. The monkeys have it.How much do we spend on nuts?We spend £5,500 a year on nuts - brazils/almonds are a premium buy!FACTFILEAndrea Fidgett