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Thanksgiving, like a beast

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications
Photos by: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

Thanksgiving is a time for tradition—too much turkey, small talk with long-lost relatives, football jitters and holiday traffic jams—but we’re here to help you break convention and show your wild side. Take a cue from the animals and enjoy Thanksgiving like a beast!

1. Forage together

In the wild, meerkats take turns foraging for small lizards, insects, birds and fruit while one or two of them act as a sentry and keep a lookout for predators. At the zoo, our meerkat mob dines on a variety of kibble, vegetables, crickets, mealworms, mice, fish and a carnivore meat diet.

Tip from the meerkats: Holiday grocery shopping can be grueling, but not when you’ve got accomplices! Plan to visit the market with your own mob (a few close friends or family members). Divide your list and conquer the masses together. Then celebrate with a cricket pie. Hey, it’s protein!

2. Hoard your cache

Like any good scavenger, azure-winged magpies store insects, eggs, carrion and nuts in secret hiding spots in the ground to keep them handy for a rainy day. At the zoo these scrappy birds enjoy a mixed diet of fruits and veggies, kibble grain, a little raw meat, a pinkie mouse and a peanut to top it all off.

Our magpies will tell you: sometimes a little hoarding is a good thing! Begin prepping dough and desserts a few days ahead of time, and then store them in the fridge or freezer until you need them. When it’s go time, you’ll be way ahead of the game.

3. Go ahead, wolf it down!

Wolves in the wild can “wolf down” 20 pounds of food at one meal! They gorge themselves quickly because they never know when their next meal might be available. Our wolf pack enjoys a variety of enrichment treats hidden throughout their exhibit. Items such as meat-filled pumpkins, large knuckle bones, and special treats such as rabbit, chicken and trout complement their carnivore diet.

What would a wolf do? Gorging yourself every day is not healthy, but some nutritionists believe a diet molded after an animal inspired gorge-and-fast approach might provide your metabolism with a healthy variety. The verdict is still out on this diet for humans, but since its Thanksgiving, we say go ahead and stuff yourself!

4. Get loud at the dinner table

Red ruffed lemurs are extremely vocal animals, especially at mealtime. These primates have a complex system of at least 12 different vocalizations. Their incredible grunts, gurgles and famous cackles are all used to communicate. In the wild, lemurs dine primarily on fig and other fruit trees as well as some nectar and flowers. Here at the zoo, our lemurs are fed a variety of their favorite fruits, some leaf-eater chow (a special mix prepared by our zoo nutritionists) and veggies like kale, celery and spinach.

Let it out like a lemur: Thanksgiving is no time to hold back, get loud! Tell your friends and family how thankful you are for their company in the loudest voice you can muster. A loud dinner party is a happy dinner party! 

5. Get your grub on

In the wild, Asian small-clawed otters use their dexterous front paws to catch crabs, mollusks, snails, small fish and even amphibians. At the zoo, our otters enjoy a variety of fish and mollusks. The resourceful family has also been seen foraging for grubs in their new exhibit!

You otter try it: Otters aren’t bashful when it comes to protein, they’ll try to get their paws on just about anything that comes their way. Put down the fork and grab hold of your holiday feast. Use your nimble fingers to dig in. Perhaps you’ll have a gourmand awakening! (Just wash those paws first, please.)

6. Demand to be fed

Lola and Patrick are toucans. In the wild, toucans typically snack on fruits, insects and small creatures, including bird eggs, lizards and young mice. At the zoo, our toucans are offered apples, blueberries, papayas, bananas, pear, melon, and even cooked yams. But Lola doesn’t want to just eat these delicious items, she wants Patrick to feed her, which he is happy to do! A sign of affection and potential nesting, these love birds know how to please by dropping treats into each other’s beak.

Love on the table: Go ahead, slip some cranberries into your sweetheart’s mouth. Just make sure he or she likes cranberries.

7. Midnight snack

Sloths are nocturnal, so most of their snacking takes place late into the night. Sloths slowly comb the forest for food. Their diet is made up primarily of leaves, which don’t supply much energy and take a long time to digest. Of course, staying still while slowly digesting low energy food also works to the sloth's advantage, since that incredible stillness helps it stay hidden from predators. At the zoo, our sloths Nentas and Mocha snack on fiber biscuits, occasional fresh fruits and a variety of fresh browse.

Sloth it up: While we don’t recommend snacking upside down, we do recommend sneaking into the kitchen after midnight and picking at the leftovers with your cousins. Do it really slowly and channel your inner sloth.

8. Stretch it out

Pythons devour large meals all at once, but once they eat their prey the hard work comes in digesting it! In the wild, India rock pythons catch small mammals and birds. At the zoo, our python is fed a large rat or chicken once a week. After such a large meal, pythons find a safe place to digest their feast. The snake’s stomach makes it difficult to move around too much, so they tend to chill out in one spot, stretching out. The digestion process can take from several days to several weeks, but warm temperatures speed up their metabolism.

Take a snake nap: Your stomach deserves a break! After all that stuffing, find a warm, cozy spot to stretch out and give your digestive system a boost by drinking plenty of water. If you really overdo it, take a cue from our python and jump in the bath. A good float takes pressure off your belly and allows you to digest comfortably. 

9. Hide your turkey!

Our bears have some amazing turkey-sniffing skills! These big grizzlies use their excellent sense of smell to sniff out enrichment snacks hidden throughout their exhibit.  Bears can smell food from up to 20 miles away! Our grizzly brothers receive an omnivore diet of yams, carrots, apples, oranges, lettuce, celery, kale, biscuits, bread and meats such as chicken, beef, rabbit and their favorite, salmon! 

Get grizzly: This Thanksgiving, we recommend that you hide your turkey. That’s right, hide your turkey before your brother snatches it away. And make sure you lick it first, which will deter anyone from wanting in it the first place. Then, wait a few minutes before you retrieve it and then go ahead and eat it in front of everyone else. Mmm...turkey.

10. Be thankful!

We’re seriously grateful for the incredible care and love that our zoo dieticians put into each and every animal nutrition plan. Keepers, volunteers and commissary staff serve up top-notch, locally sourced products to over 300 different species; that’s an incredible amount of meal prepping! Work begins at 7:30 a.m. each morning in commissary’s restaurant-quality kitchen, where staff packs 400 containers for a huge variety of hungry beasts. From crickets to watermelon balls, salmon to pumpkins, our residents also get a variety of seasonal enrichment treats on top of their everyday diets. 

Commissary staff: Yul Haarhaus, Sonja Rosas, Leilani Konecny and Pauline Griffith. Photo by dedicated zoo volunteer Joanne Foster, Woodland Park Zoo

You can help: Wish your animal friends at the zoo "Season’s Feedings!" by helping us provide vitamin-packed meals and tasty treats this winter! On Giving Tuesday, December 2, your gift will be matched dollar for dollar by a generous group of anonymous zoo donors, doubling your impact. Every contribution, of any size, will help our animals and our zoo this holiday season. Giving Tuesday donations will be matched up to a total of $15,000. Thanks for thinking about us on Giving Tuesday!

Get a little wild and have a Happy Thanksgiving! With all that talk about food we’re going to go find ourselves a leaf-eater biscuit.