“The elephants really like the trees,” zoo spokeswoman Svenja Eisenbarth told The Post by email. “On the one hand, the trees are eaten, and on the other, they are a great and varied toy for the animals.”
The zoo received two truckloads of leftover trees this year, said Eisenbarth. They are distributed to several animals in the zoo, but the elephants get the biggest share — over 20 trees.
In a statement, the zoo said the animals look forward to the “very special surprise” each year. It said the trees, not commonly found on their menu, help to nourish them and promote “both the mental and physical health of the animals.”
“The unusual shape, the interesting smell and the tingling sensation on the tongue make for a feast for the senses in the animal inhabitants,” the zoo said.
The crunchy conifers and their pine needles are also used as back scratchers, toothpicks and massage brushes, it added.
Alas, for the animals’ welfare, the zoo does not take pre-loved Christmas trees from the public, which tend to be chemically treated or decorated. Instead, the zoo said it takes unsold trees from selected vendors.
“Unfortunately, we cannot accept private Christmas tree donations,” Zoo Director Andreas Knieriem said in a statement. “With the trees of our partners, we can be sure that they are of good quality and therefore suitable for our animals. Animal welfare is always our top priority.”
The zoo in the German capital is home to around 20,000 animals, including four Asian elephants, three females and one male: Carla, Pang Pha, Anchali and Victor the bull elephant. He has his own enclosure and wasn’t part of the public feeding Thursday, but he did get a few of his own trees, said Eisenbarth.
Asian elephants are mostly found in India and are slightly smaller than their African relatives, weighing around five tons and growing to nearly 10 feet high. Like many of us fellow mammals, they tend to eat a lot and sleep little, according to the zoo. But these elephants take it to an extreme, spending about 17 to 19 hours a day just eating.
Each day, they usually eat around 150 kilograms (330 pounds) of plant food — mainly grass, leaves, twigs and tree bark — and can drink up to 150 liters (nearly 40 gallons) of water at their watering hole. They can live to be at least 40 years old in their natural habitat of tropical rainforests, savanna and bushland.
As social herd animals, elephants live together in extended families. Their trunks, described by the zoo as a “true miracle tool” are used to ingest food, breathe, smell, communicate, grasp, and suck in water to blow into their mouths. They can also be used to deliver deadly blows in defense to threats, it said, but the animals are “otherwise good-natured.”
It’s not only elephants who are enjoying the festive snack. The zoo’s bison and reindeer could also be seen tossing the trees and using them to nestle and scratch before chomping them.
Similar programs are underway in London and Prague. In the United States, approximately 30 million real Christmas trees are sold each year, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. Among the most popular are the white pine, white spruce and Fraser fir trees, which tend to have pleasant scents, flexible needles and dark green colors. The association favors real trees, which are renewable and recyclable, in place of plastic, non-biodegradable trees, it said.