Dublin: 20 °C Monday 15 August, 2022

What do all the animals in Irish zoos get up to on Christmas Day? We found out

Do they know it’s Christmas time at all? (Sorry.)

IT’S A REGULAR day of work for loads of people in Ireland today. Hotels have to run, the news has to be reported, care homes and helplines have to be staffed, and yep, the animals in the country’s zoos have to be looked after.

So what happens to all the lions and tigers and bears (oh my) today? Do they get any treats for Christmas?

24910057_10155221994056818_5348659586315754995_n Source: Facebook/Fota Wildlife Park

For Dublin Zoo and Fota Wildlife Park in Cork, Christmas Day is like any other day at the zoo (except for the fact that they are closed to the public).

Fota’s director Sean McKeown told DailyEdge.ie that the park closed on Christmas Eve for the first time this year, which is when the animals received their festive treats.

But other than that, the show has to go on:

It’s the normal work you would have to do on a farm, it has to be done. The staff take it upon themselves to volunteer to work, and rotate the shifts. It’s a regular day for them, but a little bit shorter.
We have to thank all the staff involved for what they do every day. You need to be dedicated towards your animals – it’s an all year round business, you can’t just turn the lights off and go.

25158487_1887322047975437_6118173627824821736_n Source: Facebook/Tayto Park

Though the same tasks are done at Tayto Park in Co Meath, there’s a bit of a fuss made for the animals and the staff too.

Jessica Harley, who looks after Conservation, Education and Research at the Park, said that animals get special ‘enrichment items’ (toys that increase their physical and mental activity levels) as Christmas treats:

We give them specially wrapped presents – for Mikey our serval and our lynx, a box sprinkled with a bit of cinnamon is a wonderful thing.
Our male mountain lion Cado adores footballs – and he has great skills! For him it’s much like a prey animal. He paws it and it moves away from him, which helps his agility, plus he has to work diligently to keep it in the grasp of his paws (and of course when he does get a firm grip with his powerful jaws it quickly deflates). He spends ages playing before going in for the kill!

Jessica told us that Christmas trees are also great enrichment items, which will come as no surprise to anyone who has a cat at home.

22852159_1833013566739619_4155401874921162552_n A meerkat enjoying a Halloween-themed enrichment item. Source: Facebook/Tayto Park

Staff who volunteered to work today came in to a canteen kitted out with decorations, chocolate and Christmas crackers, and there’s a family spirit in the air.

Many of the keepers aren’t from Meath – home for many of us is Mayo, Cork, Waterford, England and the Netherlands. Some keepers who don’t live locally even come together and celebrate Christmas at each other’s houses.

“Last year, keepers had their own Christmas surprise when a lamb was born on Christmas Eve, and another on Christmas morning,” she said. Ah, lovely.

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