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Animals at Santa Barbara Zoo Feast on Thanksgiving ‘Treats’

The Santa Barbara Zoo is open on Thanksgiving, and celebrates by providing pumpkins of all shapes and sizes to the Asian elephants and other animals, and by giving raw plucked turkeys to the big cats.

The zoo will open at 10 a.m. and close at 3:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day; tickets will be sold until 2 p.m.

“This is the perfect family outing while Thanksgiving dinner is being prepared,” Director Nancy McToldridge said. “The animals interact with their pumpkins in different ways — the elephants stomp on them, the turkey vultures peck at them and the otters will probably get theirs wet. We offer enrichment like this to them every day, but rarely in the form of pumpkins.”

Animals receiving pumpkins not only include the elephants and gorillas, but African lions, turkey vultures, slender-tailed meerkats, Asian small clawed otters, the barnyard animals and others. Many of the pumpkins were donated by local growers and used at the recent Boo at the Zoo event. In addition, the zoo’s big cats receive a “Thanksgiving dinner” of raw, plucked turkeys or game hens. This includes African lions, snow leopards and Amur leopards. For the third year running, the turkeys have been donated by Zucky Farms.

“These are the exact turkeys that we humans eat at home for Thanksgiving dinner, just uncooked,” McToldridge said.

Keeper talks are held at the animals’ exhibits, and a schedule of an enrichment activities will be posted at the zoo entrance. Food, scents and natural objects are used as enrichment to give the zoo’s animals stimulation and exercise. Enrichment is a form of training the animals to recognize that a certain behavior leads to a reward — most often in the form of food or fun. Training animals to go to a certain area in their exhibit, for example, may allow keepers to examine, administer medication or even weigh the animal.

The zoo is located at 500 Niños Drive. Click here for more information.

— Julia McHugh is the director of public relations for the Santa Barbara Zoo.

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