It may not look like much, but that yard waste bundled with twine at the edge of the driveway could be an important part of a zoo animal's diet.

It may not look like much, but that yard waste bundled with twine at the edge of the driveway could be an important part of a zoo animal's diet.

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium partners with local businesses, homeowners associations and municipalities to collect browse, or tree trimmings and similar materials that can be eaten by animals.

"We're trying to develop more partnerships because our needs for browse are growing," said Ann Lokai-Owens, browse horticulturist at the zoo.

Lokai-Owens said the zoo started collecting browse for its animals in the late 1980s. As the zoo grew through the 1990s, officials realized plant material from the zoo property in Liberty Township and the yards of employees and volunteers was not sufficient to keep up with demand.

Since then, the zoo has developed partnerships with municipalities such as Delaware and Powell, area businesses such as Honda, and other regional attractions such as Dawes Arboretum and Franklin Park Conservatory.

Lokai-Owens said she views the partnerships as mutually beneficial. The zoo gets free plant material for its animals, while the partners have their plant waste hauled away.

Lokai-Owens said the details of the arrangement vary from partner to partner.

In the city of Delaware's case, zoo officials give the city's arborist a list of desired plants. He then alerts the zoo when city workers are pruning an area that will produce a significant amount of browse, which can be trucked away by zoo employees.

"This is a great opportunity to work with the zoo and also help us out as well, saving us manpower and costs," Delaware spokesman Lee Yoakum said in an email. "This is also environmentally friendly."

Powell spokeswoman Megan Canavan said the city has partnered with the zoo on its browse program for about five years. The zoo sits just west of Powell city limits off state Route 750.

"They're a large attraction in this area and we like to support them as much as we can," she said.

Canavan said photos of zoo animals enjoying trimmings from Powell trees also have been a hit on the city's social-media pages.

Lokai-Owens said the zoo will not accept vegetation that has been sprayed with chemicals and will not send anyone out to collect browse in small amounts.

"We need quite a bit," she said. "When we go out, we don't want to get just a couple branches. We want a truckload."

Examples of trees that produce suitable vegetation for the zoo's needs include apple, birch, elm, mulberry, pear and willow. The zoo also collects browse from maple trees, excluding varieties of red maple, which can be toxic to animals.

Animals that benefit from the browse program include giraffes, monkeys, moose and porcupines.

Lokai-Owens said the browse program has multiple benefits for the animals. Along with enhancing their diets, browse can reinforce natural behaviors such as stripping bark and allow animals such as porcupines to file down their teeth, she said.

tgallick@thisweeknews.com

@TWGallick