Big animals who thrive on a plant-based Diet

What started out as a simple post turned into a trip down memory lane. As long as these ‘trips’ are interesting and not too long that’s ok. But if it turns out to be a snoozefest, similar to watching videos of Cousin Eddy’s summer vacation, we are OUT!

We wouldn’t submit our readers to boring crap either!

Big Animals who thrive on a vegan Diet, a short list of the largest herbivores we to demonstrate that a plant-based diet could provide more protein pound for pound than meat. A guest post we uncovered during a collaboration with a vegan friend of ours who had amazing stories to tell, memories of his work with zoo animals as a youth.

He knows from personal experience where the biggest and strongest animals get their protein. During a chat we got to talking about animal welfare and the vegan movement in general and what else we could do legally to help spread the word about the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle. In his youth he was fortunate to have worked with exotic animals such as Clydesdale horses, three times his size, working with exotic birds, African elephants and a myriad of animals you would only find in a zoo. Living on the waters of Tampa Bay, volunteering at the new Busch Gardens (still under construction in ’63) after school. It’s better if you hear the story from him and worth the read, especially if you were around in those heady days of yesteryear.

Take it away Mike,

Thanks Dex,

I’ll try not to make this nostalgic trip back to the early 60’s too long before I get to the material I wanted to share with the readers of the Vegan Swamp.

My point being that you don’t have to eat meat to get the protein you need for optimum health.

By using examples of some of world’s biggest animals, ones who thrive on a plant-based diet, I hoped I could change a few misleading myths floating around cyberspace about protein and muscle.

Just how much protein do humans Need?

  • Spinach: 57% protein
  • Bok choy: 56% protein
  • Asparagus: 53% protein
  • Mushrooms: 52% protein
  • Collard greens: 45% protein
  • Kale: 43% protein
  • Arugula: 42% protein
  • Romaine lettuce: 40% protein
  • Turnip greens: 40% protein
  • Brussels sprouts: 38% protein

The Original Fortunate Son

Yes, John Fogarty, I did end up going to Vietnam, but back in 1963 at fourteen I felt like the luckiest kid on earth! I just didn’t know how good things were to become yet!

And No, John Forgarty, there was no Credence Clearwater Revival belting out Suzy Q on FM yet! The number one song on AM radio was Go Away Little Girl by Steve Lawrence, the family car was an old Pontiac station wagon, gas was fourteen cents a gallon, and kids roamed the earth without fear of being snatched by the local traffickers.

We watched shows on our black and white TV, Perry Mason, Andy Griffith, the Beverly Hillbillies and Sky King, Fury, The Lone Ranger and Looney Tunes with Bugs bunny on Saturday mornings. We laughed till we were doubled over at the 3 Stooges but none of us were ever eye-gouged or slapped, we knew better! We made long treks to school in the snow after failing to hear our school being closed (school open but busses not running) on the radio. Our ‘landline’ at the time was originally a ‘party line’ where others could use the same phone number.

Fun on the weekends and after school consisted of bike riding, roller skating, ice skating on Wabash Lake in the winter, whiffle ball, 4th of July parades and riding on the bus with my grandma to St. Louis Cardinals baseball double headers at the old Sportsmans Park. (I witnessed Stan Musial hit four homers in a double header there once)

In other words, about as exciting as living in a small midwestern town like Ferguson, Missouri could be at that time. We thought we were happy there, scenes of the ocean or the forest were cool to watch on TV but not really real to us. Little did we know that our lives were about to take an unexpected but spectacular turn and water would play a big part.

Welcome to the Land of Sunshine

My father had just been appointed general manager (having been lured away from his post as manager of the Nantucket Cove, St. Louis’s finest seafood restaurant) to take the reins of the spectacular new pet project of August A. Busch, The Godfather of Budweiser beer – to be the single manager of the three restaurants housed within the well decorated walls and stained-glass windows of the Old Swiss House at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida, which at that time was still under construction. (People were hired to beat the wood beams of the interior with chains to get that “vintage” finish.)

Almost overnight I went from being a part time volunteer stable boy at Grant’s farm in St. Louis, responsible for the grooming and feeding of the Anheuser Busch Budweiser Clydesdales housed there, suddenly transported by magic to the wild and wooly landscape of the African Veldt at Busch Gardens, slowly taking shape in the Florida outback. I was just fourteen years old.

A little aside about the previously mentioned Anheuser-Busch Clydesales.

At Grants Farm in St. Louis, my name was drawn in a city-wide lottery, open to kids aged 12-14. Top prize was an internship as a groom for the Budweiser Clydesdales, mucking out their stalls, polishing their tack, etc. (If my grades dipped below 3.0 I would lose my internship.) No pressure, I managed to keep up.

Majestic by any other Name

In my mind any kind of work around those magnificent beasts was fine with me but exercising them around the farm was my favorite task. Our Clydesdale’s were beyond majestic to me and didn’t they know it! Prancing around, delighting in the attention, these were those proud horses you could see on TV at St. Louis Cardinal’s Baseball, Opening Day festivities at Busch Stadium.

They had become famous for proudly displaying the Anheuser-Busch brand, hauling the Budweiser Beer Red Wagon. They were treated like royalty and only had to harness up for big events. They were high spirited animals that would behave like gentlemen on their exercise walks around the farm, posing for pictures, getting their noses petted. Back at the barn, however, once in their stall you had to be alert to their shenanigans, they would shift their massive rumps from side to side, impatient for their oats, and if you weren’t ready for it, you got knocked on your keister! Clydesdales are such jokers!

A brave new world Awaits

Summer of ’63. Welcome to Tampa, Florida, Busch Gardens, the Old Swiss House, the African Veldt, privileged kids, exotic animals, catholic school, life on the water’s edge and a brave new world outside our little Missouri town, unknown to any of us except what we could watch on a black and white TV.

S’Long Missouri. With your cold winters and your heat and humidity in summer. (Little did we know that every state in this great country has it’s own climate and advantages to living there.) Florida can be

Dad went to Tampa first to get the lay of the land and find housing and eventually moved the whole family from sleepy little Ferguson, MO to quarters in a fine house on one of Tampa Bay’s five fingers, peninsulas that jutted out from the mainland. Suddenly us simple Midwest folk had Tampa Bay in our back yard, we had a pool and a dock! We went out the back screaming, Dad, when can we have a boat!?

Living the Dream

If you can imagine the look on a deer’s face, eyes wide, locked on the high beams of your car’s bights. If so, you can imagine the looks on the faces of our family as we moved into our house on Tampa Bay. It was any kids dream life, living on the water, friends who picked you up, not in a car, but by boat! It was all out there waiting to be explored and enjoyed as only a young man can and it lay just outside the entrance to our inlet!

This Bud’s for You

The three restaurants housed inside the Old Swiss House that Dad was tasked to run was still under construction at Busch Gardens when he reported in. There was still lots to be done to the interior and every little detail mattered. It was to be an exact copy of the original Old Swiss House in Lucerne, Switzerland, a landmark restaurant where August A. ‘Gussie” Busch, President and CEO of the world’s largest brewery, Anheuser-Busch, while dining there, met his future wife, the daughter of the proprietor.

At Busch Gardens during the first years of its operation, various animal acquisitions such as lions, giraffes and more elephants were still in the future. You could get a sample size cup of Budweiser or Michelob at the brewery but there were no rides then so very little ‘amusement park’ feel to the park yet and only the concrete supports for the monorail were up.

The Old Swiss House was to have three levels with a restaurant of its own on each floor. A fancy snack bar on the first floor, family dining with casual dress on the second floor and fine dining on the top floor with tuxedoed waiters, silver flatware, and great views of the African Veldt.

To continue my education, I was installed in a Jesuit High School located near Busch Gardens. All my new friends went there and after school and on weekends we were encouraged to work at the Gardens in various maintenance roles, usually the dirty jobs! We didn’t care what we did, we enjoyed many animal encounters while learning that it was hard work to keep them safe and happy. I was privileged to have worked alongside Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler, assisting in the care and feeding of the animals, many of which were being imported from Africa and released to roam the wild grasses of the Gardens African Veldt.

If you are old enough to remember the TV show, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, a popular American documentary television program that featured wildlife and nature then you will be familiar with the names of Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler. The show was a popular success and lasted 25 years from its debut in 1963 all the way to 1988. If you never saw it live or in syndication here is a taste:

I am not a zoo enthusiast these days, having adopted a plant-based diet, become a devotee of animal welfare, and actively campaigned against keeping animals in captivity. It’s difficult for me to understand how these men justified eating meat while ‘loving’ the animals. I doubt if the contradiction ever occurred to them. You have to remember all this happened nearly 60 years ago. Veganism was basically unknown, sure, there were vegetarians, not necessarily to save the animals but to save themselves – from the poisonous cholesterol and fat contained in processed meat. It never became a thing until people started noticing our planets oxygen producing rain forest being cut down to plant soy for even more animal feed, our environment polluted by animal agriculture, etc.

Not your typical TV Personality

Although Dr. Perkins and his staff were extremely busy with their work, in addition to overseeing the procurement of animals at Busch Gardens, he was also the active Director of the St. Louis Zoo, and at the same time filming the first show of Mutual of Omaha’ Wild Kingdom (first aired January 1963). It was an exciting time for everyone around him and yet went out of his way to be nice to me the few times when our paths crossed. I mostly tried to stay out of his way until my silent wish to be needed came true. I don’t remember if he ever called me by name, it was mostly “boy, come over here and hold his head.” I didn’t care what I was called, he and Jim Fowler were like gods to me.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Not quite up to Robin Leach standards but we thought we had died and gone to heaven. Mr. Busch liked to have the upper management teams of the various enterprises encompassing Busch Gardens to socialize with one another, kids and all! – and live in close proximity to each other in upscale waterfront homes on Tampa Bay. We called that area, the Five Fingers of Tampa Bay. Fortunately for me, each manager had sons my age who adopted me into their exclusive club of rich kids. They thought I was just another rich kid, hell, I thought I was a rich kid! Unknown to me at the time my parents were stretching it just to have me enrolled in a Catholic High School!

These sons of the Brewery Manager, the Gardens manager, the Brewmaster, etc, kids were way above my pay grade, nevertheless, they let this naive midwestern kid invade their inner circle. I made some lifelong friends who taught me how to sail, water ski and shoot. They knew they were privileged but always behaved respectfully (even behind their parent’s backs!)

At the time we had a lot of zebra and wildebeest on the African Veldt of Bush Gardens and not much else but Mr. Busch was determined to create an animal kingdom in Florida that would draw visitors from around the world, duplicating to the last detail the wide-open rural landscape of Southern Africa, featuring the type of exotic animals and fauna found there.

On weekends me and some of my new friends would hang out at the Gardens, when we weren’t busy with animal care duties’ us boys were paid a nickel a bird to shoot the pigeons and crows that were feasting on the Veldt’s newly planted African grasses. Out on the African Veldt one day I remember having to climb the only tree in sight to escape a herd of zebra who thundered by just beneath me, spooked into a stampede by something. When we got too hot out on the Veldt we went into the brewery and made a nuisance of ourselves as we zoomed around the huge stainless steel brewing vats on our Hobie Skateboards which were all the rage with kids at the time. Man, those brewery floors were so smooth!

Some of the largest animals in the world are the ones who thrive on vegan Eating

These are my picks: I have worked around all of them at one time or another.


Pound for pound the strongest and most agile of the species. They are herbivorous and mainly consume plant material as their diet, including leaves, stems, roots, young branches, buds, barks, piths, seeds, fruits and sometimes orange sodas!

Phil the Gorilla

One very famous Gorilla, affectionately known as Phil the Gorilla, a St. Louis Zoo legend and star attraction who at one time weighed 776 pounds and was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest lowland gorilla in captivity.

His normal diet consisted of 22 pounds of vegetables a day, along with an orange soda. I remember looking forward to seeing Phil on many visits to the zoo as a child and along with most of the people of St. Louis, mourned his passing in 1958.

Speaking of primates, at Busch Gardens an entire island was constructed to house the 50 or so chimps we had at the time. Surrounded by a wide moat, (they don’t swim) the chimp sanctuary was home to fifty rambunctious chimpanzees. Chimps don’t play well with others, at one time there was an experiment to introduce a young gorilla to the islant, it didn’t go well, that poor gorilla nearly learned how to swim that day before he could be hustled off, bruised but alive. All the chimps were housed together in quarters below ground at night. They did not care much for captivity, and they let us know it when it was time to go to sleep, screeching their lungs out in an attempt to keep the lights on.


A mature elephant can eat up to 600 pounds of fresh vegetation per day for the energy necessary to maintain their size and be able to wander as far as 30 miles a day. The only elephant that I had some experience with was one who became a staff favorite named Sally, a female Asian that came to Busch Gardens in ’63 and was rumored to have been one of the baby elephants used in a 1962 movie with John Wayne! Hatari!

In Swahili, Hatari means ‘Danger’ All the animal stunts were dangerous – but it’s funny too! Our Sally got her 15 minutes for sure.

I was told by her trainer that one day I could ride her when she grew to full size and it didn’t take very long, considering the huge amount of food she consumed on a daily basis! I made a deal with her trainer, in exchange for my first ride on an elephant (put that on your bucket list!) I had to promise to help with her care, in other words do my share of clean up after her nuclear bowel movements.

You haven’t lived until you shovel 20 wheelbarrows full of elephant poop in one sweltering hot afternoon in the stifling humidity of a Florida summer day – just for a ride on an elephant? I bet even Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs might not take on that job!

NOT me!

The first (and only) time I got to ride Sally, once seated on her back, I was at first distracted by how high off the ground I was, also Florida is mostly flat, and I could see for miles up there! By the time I noticed that she was slowly making her way toward her favorite mud hole it was already too late. (You really don’t want to jump off a 10′ tall elephant!) As she made her way toward the deep end of her muddy pool, I could swear I heard her make a chuckling-like sound, but maybe it was just the snickering of her handler who knew the whole time what she would do – and not a raincoat in sight. Standing in water up to her belly she sprayed gallons of muddy water over her back, soaking yours truly with muck in the process. Ah, elephants are such jokers!


Bison primarily eat grasses, weeds and leafy plants— typically foraging for 9–11 hours a day to maintain their muscular bulk.

We didn’t have any bison at Busch Gardens during my time there. The only experience I have had with them happened when I was hiking in the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park. At the ranger station while getting my backcountry permit, rangers told me what to watch out for and what not to mess with, asking me if capturing an award-winning photo was worth risking my life.

Rangers said the bears would not bother me as long as I didn’t have any food in my tent, so off I went with my Nikon camera, some light fishing tackle, a little food and a bear horn. Their words were lost to me when I awakened in the middle of the first night in the bush to the sounds of snorting and woofing just outside the walls of my tent!

Got food?

In my mind I could picture a no-less than ten-foot-tall grizzly bear and me, helpless human, as his intended snack. I had hung my food bag high in a tree, what was he smelling? I suddenly remembered the honey maple pipe tobacco I had in a pouch near my bedroll, and as soon as I could move, I quickly tossed it out of my tent, thinking that was what the bear was after.

So, after lying awake for hours, frozen in terror, waiting to be mauled by a grizzly bear, I must have finally dozed off. I woke to morning light and MORE snorting sounds. It couldn’t still be that same darn bear, could it?

At least it was light outside when I woke from dreams of snarling bears with massive fangs to discover I was still in one piece. I was a happy camper; Night of the Grizzly was at last over and I was still alive! I could at long last see who or what was making the noise. Slowly I unzipped the tent flap a bit and peeked out. It weren’t no bear but something much worse, I found myself smack in the middle of a grazing herd of huge, shaggy haired bison who could stomp me to mush if spooked. There must have been hundreds of them just milling around. Slightly less terrorized at the thought of being eaten by a grizzly bear, I lay back in my tent, until at last, they moved on.

That was the other thing the Yellowstone Rangers warned me to watch out for in the backcountry, the bison, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES MESS WITH THE BISON! If you frighten them they will stampede and if you are in their way…well, sign this release just in case. Gulp!


Rhinos are herbivorous, feeding on various plant-based diets, including the following: Grasses of all types, shrubs, trees, tree bark, roots, vegetables, leaves, fruits.

Weighing up to a whopping 2000 Lbs. of armored muscle at maturity, these majestic animals are endangered of extinction by hunters because some morons convinced them they could get paid big bucks for just the rhino’s horn! Rich morons and their rich moron friends buy the stuff by the gram, expensive, because of the risk involved. Hunting an animal to near extinction just for some organic Viagra? Shameful! Poachers are often shot on sight!

The horn of the Rhino is solid as a rock but it’s not made of bone, it’s rather a living stalagmite shaped horn of rhino snot, hair, dirt, rhino boogers, all solidified into a frightful looking horn that can be used as a weapon during mating season or people stupid enough to mess with them.

There is no evidence that rhino horn powder has any medical benefits, making it all the more shameful for people who purchase it on the black market.

Here is a too-close encounter of the scary kind with an upset rhino. Infringing on her territory I suspect.

We had just one very large, fully-grown rhino at Busch Gardens in those early years and I was instructed that under any circumstances was I to go near him, even anestisized! They did not have to tell me twice, he terrified me, even when I was safely behind the 8′ thick, railroad tie enforced, walls of his enclosure. The ground would shake around him when he trotted. I felt sorry for that rhino.

The remaining larger animals that I have encountered over the years that thrive on a plant-based diet include:

Horses – Beautiful animals, they just don’t like me. Seems that nearly every horse I have ever ridden does something nasty to me, biting, bucking, taking off, throwing, you name it. I finally discovered why, once I became enthusiastic about the plant-based lifestyle, they just don’t care to have a 200 lb idiot sitting on their back!

Cows – dumbest animal on earth but among the sweetest when you get to know them.

Last but not least, you can throw us HUMANS into this mix of large animals. If you need proof, just watch Arnold Swarzenagger in The Game Changers, one of our favorite documentaries on plant-based nutrition and protein.

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