OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Zookeepers in Oakland used leftover Christmas trees as special seasonal treats for otters, giraffes, elephants and meerkats Thursday – hiding special foods or scents for each animal in the foliage.

Nicky Mora, at the Oakland Zoo, said guests can watch the animals play with Christmas trees through the end of this month and into February.

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“Zookeepers are always looking for ways to keep animals busy and happy throughout the day, and also inspire behavior they would use in the wild,” Mora said.

“Most of the animals would be out foraging for their food, and this is a way to encourage that kind of behavior,” she added.

(photo courtesy Steve Goodall, Oakland Zoo)

(photo courtesy Steve Goodall, Oakland Zoo)

(photo courtesy Steve Goodall, Oakland Zoo)

(photo courtesy Steve Goodall, Oakland Zoo)


Many animals are also excited by new scents in their environments, Mora said, just like house cats are by catnip or cardboard boxes from the store. Because of that dynamic, zookeepers plan to move some of the trees from one enclosure to another.

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“The meerkat one will get moved into the lion exhibit or the tiger exhibit, where it will have the scent of a meerkat on it,” Mora said.

Zookeepers said they strive to provide Christmas trees to all of the animals as an enrichment activity. Many species also enjoy using the trees as toys or furniture, like the squirrel monkeys, which like to swing or hang from the branches.

The Oakland Zoo thanked Crystal River Christmas Trees in Alameda for donating the trees. The zoo welcomes donations of enrichment items year round, although they do not accept Christmas trees from the general public.

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For a full list of donation items needed by the zoo, visit www.oaklandzoo.org/donate–goods.php.