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Holiday Fun for Sacramento Zoo Animals, Staff & Visitors

Male African Lion curiously enjoys his enrichment.

Sacramento Zoo staff often cite Holiday Magic as a favorite day at the Zoo. This is a special event where staff come together in a unique way to provide holiday-themed treats for the animals. This interactive experience returns to the Zoo on Saturday, Dec. 10.

Though Zoo residents regularly receive “enrichments” (treats or items to stimulate natural behaviors), guests are often unaware of these activities. If you have ever wondered why cardboard or a coffee sack was in an exhibit, it was part of an enrichment. Keepers are always coming up with a variety of treats, puzzles and other ways to keep the animals stimulated and happy.

The “enrichments” for Holiday Magic are additionally special because of the festive touch and the collaboration from multiple departments. The Zoo’s Digital Media Manager spearheads the planning, which is a great break-from-routine for her as she works with Animal Care staff, the Education Department and the Sacramento Zoo Teens to come up with the types of “enrichments” and the fun ideas for how to present them.

Planning the types of “enrichments” includes considering individual animals’ dietary needs, their safety and what is fun for visitors to see. Some of the food “enrichments” include pine cones coated with yams and cranberries, handmade stockings filled with fruits and vegetables, bamboo wreaths and, of course, the Black and White Ruffed Lemur’s “Santa’s Village” feast. Each item must be veterinarian and keeper approved, then care must be given while assembling the treats.

Other “enrichments” include items the animals can play with, such as Christmas trees, ice and cardboard boxes filled with scents like cinnamon. The Zoo Teens are vital in helping design the holiday-themed piñatas made from cardboard, newspaper and flour paste. Making sure to remove any tape and staples, Zoo Teens and staff cleverly decorate the boxes. Other boxes are cleverly decorated using nontoxic paints and Christmas wrap with safe inks after tape and staples are removed. The Grinch’s sleigh, an elf hut and a giant present topped with an elaborately crafted paper bow have all made debuts during Holiday Magic.

During scheduled “enrichments,” information will be shared so visitors can learn more about the animals. “Enrichments” will take place every thirty minutes from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm so you are sure to enjoy this festive day as much as staff.

For the enrichment schedule and more information, visit saczoo.org/holidaymagic.

Wolf's Guenon Wolf's Guenon eats yam and cranberries from a festive pine cone
Wolf’s Guenon Wolf’s Guenon eats yam and cranberries from a festive pine cone.
Reticulated Giraffe with edible wreath.
Reticulated Giraffe with edible wreath.
Holiday Magic guests peer into the Aardvark mound.
Holiday Magic guests peer into the Aardvark mound.

Photos by April Johnson

A modified version of this article can also be found on the Sacramento Zoo’s blog.

About the author

April Mae Saenz Johnson

On a daily basis, I see animals from all over the world in one special place: the Sacramento Zoo. I am happy to share inside info, fun facts and photographs of the zoo's animals, staff and events.

In my personal life, I enjoy the sleepy, gross and amazing moments of motherhood, time with my husband and our labradoodle, with a bit of traveling, yoga and volunteering on the Leadership Team for Social Media Club Sacramento.

I am embarking on a new adventure as co-founder of Aging UP, a nonprofit empowering youth with experience in foster care to successfully transition into adulthood.

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