There is a hidden restaurant near the south end of Grant Park, in a tan-painted aluminum warehouse. No silverware, no tablecloths. If the place had a menu, it would feature colossal rats and quarter-inch crickets.
In the kitchen one morning, a man stood over a red-stained cutting board, slicing beef from raw bones. He stacked the bones in a plastic tub. They would be served without fanfare or seasoning to a party of Asian small-clawed otters for purposes of dental hygiene. This is easier than brushing their teeth.
The man with the knife was Rob Nehra, and otters are only a sideline. His first job is feeding the Zoo Atlanta kitchen’s most difficult customer: the giant panda. Hence his title—bamboo technician.
Imagine living on plywood. Not many calories in plywood. You’d have to eat all day to survive. Pandas basically do this. They eat bamboo all day. So men like Nehra drive all over Georgia collecting the stuff. The zoo has a hotline you can call to donate bamboo (404-624-5884). The technicians cut nearly 500 pounds a day with handsaws and loppers and bring it back for storage in a walk-in refrigerator. Then it’s served in a near-constant stream to the zoo’s three ravenous pandas.