Collaborating to create a recipe for aardvark milk

Cincinnati, OH (March 9, 2018) Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is milking it. Whenever possible, the Zoo’s animal care team gets milk from lactating moms so scientists can analyze the composition. In Fiona the hippo’s case, knowing what was in her mom’s milk saved her life.  Now, Ali the aardvark is making weekly deposits to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s Exotic Animal Milk Repository so scientists can create a recipe for synthetic aardvark milk!

“The aardvark care team has been closely supervising Ali and her baby, Winsol, since he was born.  Because of this, Ali is comfortable being touched and doesn’t even seem to notice when she’s being milked,” said Barbara Henry, Cincinnati Zoo’s curator of nutrition.  “Milk collection for other animals, like Fiona’s mom Bibi, at our Zoo has also been voluntary and did not require anesthesia.”

Bibi’s milk sample was the first of its kind to be included in the milk repository. They do have one sample of aardvark milk that was deposited in 1992, but more samples from different animals gives a better picture of how variable the milk can be.  The care team has been milking Ali weekly since mid January and will continue to do so until Winsol is weaned.

“Milk composition changes during the lactation cycle, so providing the lab with samples collected over a period of weeks will help us replicate mom’s milk for babies at different stages of development,” said Henry.  “More animals and more time points will help us develop an aarvark formula with the right combination of sugar, protein, fat and water that can be used if a baby is not able to nurse from mom.”

Winsol (born on the Winter Solstice) is the first healthy aardvark baby to be born at the Zoo since 1994.  He weighed about three pounds at birth and is now ten times that weight.  In addition to mom’s milk, he is starting to try solid foods.

Cincinnati Zoo visitors will be able to see Winsol and Ali in the Night Hunter’s habitat in a few weeks!  Check CincinnatiZoo.org for details on the public debut.

About Aardvarks

Aardvarks are nocturnal mammals native to central and southern Africa. They have powerful claws that they use to rip open rock-hard termite mounds to obtain food and sweep their pig-like snouts from side to side to sniff out insects and lick them up with their long, sticky tongues. They typically weigh between 88 and 145 pounds. With long, donkey-like ears they are able to listen for signs of predators, like lions and leopards, while foraging for their own food.