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. (But if you’re planning to donate, make sure to remove the tinsel and decorations first!)
The North Georgia Zoo in Cleveland, Georgia, accepts 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, told the Gainesville Times in 2018. “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 January 4 as long as they’re still green, chemical-free, and cleared of all decorations.
Goats will eat just about anything, and Christmas trees are no exception. Various goat farms throughout the U.S. have put out calls asking for old, undecorated Christmas trees—keep an eye out for any requests from a goat farm near you.
Much like goats, pigs also stand to benefit from snacking on pine trees, which serve as a natural dewormer. Try reaching out to your local farm sanctuary to see if any of their pigs would like a post-holiday treat. (If you still have non-rotten pumpkins from the fall lying around, you can donate those as well.)
4. and 5. Lions and Tigers
Various zoos and big cat sanctuaries accept Christmas tree donations, using the plants to help give the animals enrichment. As the Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jacksonville, Florida, once put it, “The REAL gifts come AFTER Christmas for our big boys and girls.” The donated trees essentially become giant scratching posts for the massive felines.
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. Last year, The Elephant Sanctuary accepted trees until January 8. All trees must be free of pesticides, ornaments, and things like tinsel.
Fisheries can also put your old Christmas tree to good use. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, for example, once used about 200 Christmas trees to make 22 fish habitat structures; the plants are put in the water and weighed down to become a nursery for little fish.
A version of this story originally ran in 2018; it has been updated for 2022.