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For Berlin Zoo animals, the tastiest Christmas leftovers are the trees

The Berlin Zoo has a tradition of letting its animals play with and feast on leftover Christmas trees. (Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images)
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Bison and ibexes munching on fir leaves. Reindeer prodding branches with their antlers. Elephants tossing trees on their backs and nibbling on the conifers.

These were the playful scenes Wednesday at the Berlin Zoo, where animals feasted on and cavorted with leftover Christmas trees. The roughly 200 firs were donated by nearby retailers to give the animals a “festival for the senses,” according to a zoo statement.

The trees provide “not only a source of nutrition to some animals but also act as … enrichment” because of their unusual shape and smells, as well as the tingly feeling on the tongues of animals that come into contact with the conifers, the zoo said.

Only unsold Christmas trees that have not been treated by chemicals are used for the event, according to the Berlin Zoo, which is not supported by German taxpayers. It said the coronavirus pandemic had depleted its financial reserves and that it appreciated the support in lean times.

Oh, Christmas tree, not you, too: Supply chain problems come to the fir trade

The Prague Zoo also had a similar idea this week: Six dozen unsold spruces were given to animals, who ate the needles or scratched their backs on the branches, Agence France-Presse reported.

“It’s a toy for the animals rather than food, a new stimulus, entertainment,” said zoo director Miroslav Bobek. “Many animals that are not strictly herbivores get them as a toy.”

In the United States, some 25 to 30 million real Christmas trees are sold every year, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. But amid growing climate consciousness, more people are putting their trees to alternative use after each holiday season.

A 6½-foot tall Christmas tree that ends up discarded has a carbon footprint of about 35 pounds, according to British environmental consultancy Carbon Trust. Small farms and animal sanctuaries, for instance, are asking people to donate their Christmas trees instead of discarding them.

Elephants and other animals at a zoo and animal park in Berlin were treated to a belated Christmas feast of unsold Christmas trees on Dec. 29. (Video: Reuters)

The Carl E. Dahl House, an animal therapy and rescue facility near Worcester, Mass., recently urged people to let its goats recycle Christmas trees for them.

Americans generate 25 percent more waste between Thanksgiving and Jan. 1 than during other times of the year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.