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Santa Barbara Zoo Celebrates Thanksgiving with Annual Pumpkin Smash

Animals got to eat, play with and hide in the gourds during the zoo’s limited Thanksgiving hours

An elephant enjoys a Thanksgiving pumpkin treat at the Santa Barbara zoo. Click to view larger
An elephant enjoys a Thanksgiving pumpkin treat at the Santa Barbara zoo. (Santa Barbara Zoo photo)

Not to be left out of humans’ Thanksgiving festivities, the animals of the Santa Barbara Zoo noshed — and played with — their own holiday dinner Thursday.

Many of the nearly 150 species represented at the zoo received their own pumpkins, which make for a sweet fall treat, said Dean Noble, the zoo’s director of marketing.

“The stars are, of course, the elephants,” he said. “When they step on a pumpkin, it’s like a gunshot goes off.”

As the larger animals such as elephants and gorillas played around with them, the carnivores who can’t eat pumpkin could find meat stashed inside their Thanksgiving surprises.

Water animals including penguins got to frolic around with pumpkins tossed in the water.

“For the meercats and the otters, we’ll put treats in them,” Noble said. “They’ll climb inside the pumpkins, which is awfully cute.”

Though the hefty breed of squash is relatively healthy, the zoo does not normally feed pumpkin to animals, said Trent Barnhart, an animal nutritionist with the zoo.

The pumpkins humans consume “have basically been harvested and grown and bred to meet our particular standards,” he said. “They actually have a higher sugar content than what a lot of wild vegetables would have.”

Having the unfamiliar item to mess around with has the additional benefit of mental stimulation for the animals, Barnhart said; aside from just playing with them, the pumpkins can be manipulated, for instance, into puzzles they have to solve to find more food.

Though the zoo’s hours were truncated on Thursday, Noble said the zoo is open 365 days a year.

“Local families have really enjoyed the fact that we are open on Thanksgiving,” he said. “It allows the kids the chance to get out of the house and run around and burn off some calories and burn off some energy before they have to sit down and dine with the adults.”

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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