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Christmas trees can bring great joy to animals after Christmas, providing a great source of play.
In fact, many local Christmas tree farms give surplus trees to zoos and safari parks for the animals to play with.
Some zoos even accept donations from individual households, meaning your Christmas tree could continue to spread joy once the baubles have been gloomily packed away.
Phil Knowling, a spokesperson for the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust; a South West-based conservation charity responsible for Paignton Zoo, Living Coasts and Newquay Zoo, as well as several Devon based nature reserves, spoke to UNILAD about the initiative.
Although the trust doesn’t accept donations from individuals – which they worry could be sprayed or contain sharp materials from the decorations – they do get plenty of trees from nearby Christmas tree farms.
Knowling told UNILAD how this ‘environmental enrichment’ is very important when providing zoo animals with enough stimulation:
Environmental enrichment is the science of animal play in zoos – it stimulates them mentally and physically through the use of all sorts of items, some purpose-made, others recycled or free.
We recently gave primates rose petals from a local garden – they smell good and are unusual to the touch. Volunteers make animal-friendly papier-mache items – we need lots for the baboons so they don’t squabble.
There’s always a time-lag for the animals; we give pumpkins at Halloween – but as we get leftover pumpkins after the event, they are some days behind!
Knowling also gave the following adorable recollection:
It’s great to see an adult Sumatran tiger romping around his enclosure with a small conifer tree in his jaws like a kitten with a toy.
Christmas trees have numerous benefits for zoo animals, stimulating their sense of smell and offering variety.
Lions in particular appear to have a fondness for these prickly trees, for a very adorable reasons indeed.
Christmas trees are thought to contain catnip – also known as catmint – which can cause feelings of blissful euphoria in cats, of both the big and small variety.
Meanwhile, elephants benefit from the nutritional value found in Christmas trees, which are said to contain oils which aid their digestion – always a plus after the excesses of the holiday season…
Katie Grant, Digital Coordinator at Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm, told UNILAD about the benefits of the zoo’s Christmas Tree Enrichment initiative:
At Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm, we give enrichment to the animals at the zoo daily to encourage natural behaviours, environmental interactions and behavioural diversity.
This is important for an animal’s welfare as they may become frustrated if they’re unable to display these natural behaviours.
Physically getting the animals excited and running around is also great for their fitness.
Katie also revealed how this initiative is also a great way to reuse trees in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner, with the zoo using ‘recycled enrichment’ as much as possible.
Katie explained how many of the trees are donated by local businesses and visitors, giving them a renewed, useful purpose. Win win.
Katie remarked how Christmas Tree Enrichment is great fun for both the animals and visitors:
The trees have a strong smell and as the trees are not usually seen by the animals they are new and exciting for them.
Hiding the trees in the enclosures is also a fun way of enabling our animals to use their tracking or foraging skills.
For the visitors, Christmas tree enrichment is a fun and seasonal activity to watch. Christmas tree enrichment has been given to our African Elephants, Lions, Tigers, Spectacled Bears, White Rhinos, Reindeer and Goats over the years.
The African Elephants actually eat the Christmas trees as well as playing with and destroying them.
The big cats particularly enjoy rolling around on the Christmas trees, likely because of the smell.
They will also practice their stalking and fighting skills on the trees.
The zoo keepers at Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm just love to try out new ways to bring a little Christmas spirit into the lives of the animals:
In the past we’ve planted a Christmas tree forest in the Tiger enclosure – they loved stalking and hiding behind the trees as well as pouncing on them. The Tigers will also urinate on the trees to scent mark them.
This year, as a treat before Christmas, we’ve made a Christmas tree forest inside Elephant Eden for Janu and M’Changa to eat and destroy each day in December.
Our other animals have also received festive enrichment in various forms including stockings and papier-mâché presents.
As somebody who’s all about putting a stocking out for your pet, this sounds like a delightful thing to do!
I honestly love how animals get just as excited by Christmas trees suddenly popping up everywhere as we humans do…
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