Is there anything more exciting than Christmas morning? Yummy treats, special presents just for you and being surrounded by the people you love…Here at the Houston Zoo primate department, we strive to make the animal’s Christmas morning just as memorable. Christmas day is one of the two days a year when the Houston Zoo is closed to the public; the other day being Thanksgiving. But as they say, the show must go on. There are homes to clean, mouths to feed, and in this case…stockings to be filled with pine shavings? Let me explain.
It all starts with something animal care staff calls “enrichment”. David Shepherdson describes enrichment as something that enhances the quality of captive animal care by identifying and providing the environmental stimuli necessary for optimal psychological and physiological well-being. Basically, in a nutshell roasting on an open fire, enrichment is something that keeps life exciting and always stimulating, encouraging natural behaviors in the process. Enrichment is a constant everyday occurrence for the animals here at the Houston Zoo. On a typical day, you will find things used throughout exhibits such as forage piles heaped of sand, puzzle feeders made of PVC and even various extracts sprayed about to entice scent-marking primates. But on Christmas, things get a whole lot more holly jolly.
Zookeepers spend weeks prepping, constructing and gathering all of those special details they know are their primate’s favorite things…similar to Santa’s elves. On Christmas morning, while most of Houston is still nestled snug in their beds with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, zookeepers can be found Santa-hats donned and Christmas music playing, filling animal exhibits to the brim with presents, streamers and wrapping paper with only the mere audience of the animals to please. The presents are simply any animal-safe box (tape and staples removed) wrapped and filled with a variety of things ranging from: new baskets, wiffle balls and frisbees if you’re an orangutan, new blankets and children’s books if you’re a chimpanzee, new Kong toys if you’re a De Brazza’s monkey and maybe some nice new hanging bells and mirrors if you’re a Goeldi’s monkey. But what good would presents be if you didn’t have delicious treats to go along with them? Although all the primates receive a variety of fruits and vegetables every day, on Christmas they may get supplemented with favored food items that they only receive sparingly such as dried fruits, honey-peanut butter smears and grape juice for everyone! While exhibits are being serviced by keepers in the morning, some apes may even be lucky enough to watch their favorite holiday flick such as Frozen or How the Grinch Stole Christmas, as keepers set up TVs and DVD players for them. Sure, there’s the typical tug of war over everyone’s favorite blanket or movie seat, but what household doesn’t have that? Once everything is said and done, the excitement and happiness felt is worth all the hard work. After all, it wouldn’t be Christmas if you weren’t spending it with primates you love.
We know what you’re thinking, and no, zookeepers couldn’t do this alone, we are mere mortals after all. Without the help of our extraordinary and selfless volunteer staff and donors who thoughtfully purchase and donate animal-safe presents for the animals every year, those presents would be a little bit more bleak. If this all sounds like something too merry to miss out on, there are simple ways to get involved! You can give the gift of grub! By donating to the Houston Zoo this holiday season, your money can go specifically towards all those yummy treats and meals that make things like this so special. Even better, whatever you donate TXU Energy will match, up to $50,000! Click on the link below to check it out.
Happy holidays and foraging to you and yours!