5 Animals That Would Love Your Used Christmas Tree

Stephanie Pilick, AFP/Getty Images
Stephanie Pilick, AFP/Getty Images

With Christmas now behind us, you might be thinking about taking down your tree soon. If you have a real tree, don’t be so quick to throw it out with the stale cookies and ripped wrapping paper, though. Many animals enjoy eating or playing with pine trees, so you may want to check with zoos or farms in your area to see if they’ll take it off your hands. Below, we’ve listed five animals that won’t turn down a tasty tree, as well as several locations that are currently accepting them. (But if you’re planning to donate, make sure to remove the tinsel and decorations first!)

1. Kangaroos

The North Georgia Zoo in Cleveland, Georgia, is accepting donated Christmas trees for the “enrichment” of its kangaroos, porcupines, camels, wolves, and other furry residents. “Enrichment is a fancy word for entertainment,” Rachel Heck, visitor experience lead at the zoo, tells the Gainesville Times. “It keeps their minds stimulated.” Different animals use the trees in different ways, but kangaroos in particular like to grab and play with the branches, which are suspended above their enclosure. The zoo will accept trees until December 31 as long as they’re still green and chemical-free.

2. Goats

Goats will eat just about anything, and Christmas trees are no exception. The Lewis Farms & Petting Zoo in New Era, Michigan, will happily accept Christmas trees until the end of January, which will be used to feed its goats. The pine needles are chock-full of Vitamin C and they also help control worms in the animals. Cindy Lewis, co-owner of the farm, tells the Detroit Free Press that “The goats can devour a tree in a matter of minutes, they get very excited!”

3. Pigs

Much like goats, pigs also stand to benefit from snacking on pine trees, which serve as a natural dewormer. Last year, the Funny Foot Farm and Petting Zoo in Tucson, Arizona, is accepted leftover trees from a nearby tree farm, which zookeepers fed to their pigs and goats. The Zoo is accepting donations this year; they asked that you remove tinsel before donating. Call (520) 399-6555 for more information.

4. Lions

At Lake Ariel, Pennsylvania’s Paws ‘N’ Claws Wild Animal Park—home to lions, warthogs, monkeys, giraffes, and many other animals—donated Christmas trees can serve as either a snack or as a toy. When lions woke up to find a tree in their enclosure in January 2019, “They got very excited,” head zookeeper Pamela Zoglino said. “They love new things like that.” Many of the cats use the trees as big scratching posts.

"It's good enrichment for the animals," lead animal keeper Carina Fabbricatore told a local ABC affiliate last year. "It gives them something to smell, rip apart, rub on, play with, drag around—just something to enrich their day." Claws ‘N’ Paws is closed for the season, but you can still donate your tinsel- and ornament-free tree (which must also be untreated) off in the parking lot any day between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

5. Elephants

In recent years, The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, has given resident elephants donated Christmas trees to munch on around the holidays. The trees supplement the elephants’ usual diet and provide an extra dose of nutrients, thanks to the sweet resin they contain. They also make a nice plaything, and you can watch an elephant tossing around a branch in the video above. The Sanctuary is accepting trees this year until January 5; all trees must be free of pesticides, ornaments, and things like tinsel, and there's a five-tree limit per household.

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Wayfair
Wayfair

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12 Fascinating Facts About Elephants

Photo by David Heiling on Unsplash

Known for their strong family bonds and intelligence, elephants have fascinated humans across time and cultures. As the largest living land mammal, a male African bush elephant typically stands more than 10 feet tall and weighs an incredible 6.6 tons. Although poachers still kill approximately 100 African elephants every day, conservation groups are working to save elephant populations from extinction. Read on for a dozen things you might not know about elephants, from their long history as a political symbol to their legit firefighting skills.

1. Contrary to popular belief, elephants are not exactly scared of mice.

Baby elephant looks startled.
iStock.com/szaphotography

Cartoonists have long depicted the funny juxtaposition of a giant elephant terrified of a tiny mouse. Zoologists and elephant trainers have conducted experiments to test whether elephants are truly afraid of rodents, and it seems to be a myth. Mice themselves don't frighten elephants, but the pachyderms have poor vision and can get extremely startled when anything suddenly scurries by. Elephants are probably more afraid of a mouse's sudden movement than the mouse itself.

2. Wild elephants could have populated the U.S., but abraham Lincoln nixed the idea.

A mother and baby elephant taking a walk.
iStock.com/saha_avijan

In 1861, President Lincoln received gifts, including elephant tusks and a handmade sword, from Siam's King Somdetch Phra Paramendr Maha Mongkut. The king of present-day Thailand also made an interesting offer: Mongkut proposed that Siam would send pairs of male and female elephants to the U.S. to breed in the forests. Americans could then tame the wild elephants and put them to work for the economic benefit of the country. William Seward, Lincoln's secretary of state, replied to Mongkut in 1862, graciously declining his offer. He told the king that since the U.S. already used steam power to efficiently transport goods within the country, elephants simply wouldn't be practical.

3. Trunk-sucking is the elephant equivalent of thumb-sucking.

Baby elephant sucking its trunk.
iStock.com/bucky_za

When baby elephants want to comfort themselves, they instinctively start sucking their trunks. Trunk-sucking is also a way that a baby elephant can learn how to use her trunk (which contains between 40,000 and 50,000 muscles). Although most elephants, like human babies, grow out of sucking behavior, some adult elephants also suck their trunks when they feel anxious.

4. Elephants have been the symbol of the Republican Party since 1874.

Elephant symbol for the Republican party.
iStock.com/Niyazz

Although elephants had been occasionally used as a symbol for Republicans during the Civil War, cartoonist Thomas Nast, who drew an elephant in an 1874 issue of Harper's Weekly, gets the credit for linking the animal with the political party. In later cartoons, Nast continued to draw an elephant to portray the Republican Party, and other cartoonists adopted it, establishing the animal as the GOP symbol.

5. Barnum & Bailey once trained elephants to play baseball.

U.S. stamp with a circus elephant on it.
iStock.com/Valerie Loiseleux

Baseball is America's pastime, so why not teach elephants how to play the game? In 1912, thanks to the work of Barnum & Bailey's elephant trainer, Harry L. Mooney, the intelligent animals played their first ballgame. Although playing baseball was just one of many tricks that circus elephants learned, Barnum & Bailey capitalized on the concept of elephant baseball by using the image on posters to sell tickets for shows.

6. Some elephants have been convicted of murder.

Elephant foot in chains.
iStock.com/Pentium2

Although elephants are typically viewed as gentle giants, they are capable of attacking and killing humans. Male elephants undergo musth, a hormonal change that makes them temporarily produce tons of testosterone, resulting in aggression. But even female elephants can kill. In 1916, a town in Tennessee charged an elephant named Big Mary with first-degree murder for killing her handler. Big Mary, who worked for the Sparks Circus, attacked her handler, possibly after he struck her with a bullhook as she was trying to eat a watermelon rind. Big Mary was convicted and sentenced to execution. Some 2500 residents of the town gathered to watch Big Mary's dramatic hanging, which featured a 100-ton crane and a chain that broke under her weight.

7. Elephants grieve death.

Elephants mourning the death of a baby elephant.
iStock.com/brittak

Although we can't know exactly what elephants feel and how they process death, they seem to show signs that they experience grief when a member of their family (or another elephant) dies. When they see a dead elephant, they may vocalize, use their trunks to "hug" the dead animal, or stay with the carcass for hours. Some elephants have also tried to bury the dead body by covering it in leaves and soil.

8. Trained elephants fight fires in Indonesia.

Elephant with water spewing out of its trunk.
Ishara S.KODIKARA, AFP/GettyImages

You probably won't see an elephant riding on a fire truck anytime soon, but elephants in Indonesia are a vital part of fighting fires. In 2015, East Sumatra was plagued with multiple fires over a period of several months, so 23 trained elephants from a conservation center went to work. Carrying water pumps and hoses, the elephants helped patrol the land and made sure that new fires weren't ignited.

9. If you're in Zambia, you might see some elephants strolling through your hotel lobby.

An elephant walks into the lobby of the Mfuwe Lodge in Zambia.
An elephant walks into the lobby of the Mfuwe Lodge in Zambia.
Lars Plougmann, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Some guests at Mfuwe Lodge in the African country of Zambia get an unusual animal sighting before they even leave the lobby. Each year between October and December, families of elephants walk through the lodge's reception area to eat wild mango from a tree in the courtyard. The elephants' giant size and seeming indifference to their hotel lobby surroundings make for quite a striking sight.

10. In 2015, scientists recorded elephants yawning for the first time.

An elephant's open mouth.
iStock.com/filrom

Although scientists speculated that elephants probably yawn, scientists from the University of California, Davis captured the first video of an elephant yawning. If you enjoy watching sleepy animals stretching and yawning, this is for you. Warning: extreme cuteness ahead.

11. Elephants starred in YouTube's first-ever video.

Man taking a photo of an elephant on his phone.
iStock.com/iudmylaSupynska

On April 23, 2005, Jawed Karim made internet history when he uploaded the first video to a certain nascent video-sharing website. Karim, one of YouTube's founders, posted an 18-second scene of himself standing in front of elephants at a zoo. In the video, he speaks about how cool the elephants' long trunks are. As of August 2019, the video has more than 74 million views.

12. Elephants love to snack on old Christmas trees.

Two elephants snacking on pine trees.
VADIM KRAMER, AFP/Getty Images

Zookeepers at Tierpark Berlin, a zoo in Germany, feed unsold Christmas trees to their elephants in early January. The trees are certified pesticide-free, and the elephants seem to enjoy their special snack. Berlin isn't the only place where elephants eat Christmas trees, though. Zoos in Prague also treat their elephants to the tasty conifers.