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Help a porcupine this year by donating your Christmas tree
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A porcupine checks out a donated Christmas tree at the North Georgia Zoo and Farm on Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

Kangaroos, camels, goats and porcupines love Christmas trees almost as much as you do. Lucky for them — and you — the North Georgia Zoo is looking to take that festive decoration off your hands, so instead of tossing it in the woods or turning it into mulch, consider doing one more good deed before the year ends by donating it to the zoo.

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Rachel Heck, visitor experience lead at the North Georgia Zoo and Farm, throws a donated Christmas tree into the porcupine enclosure on Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018. “It is good for enrichment for all our animals,” Heck said. - photo by Austin Steele
“It is good for enrichment for all our animals,” said Rachel Heck, visitor experience lead at the zoo. “Enrichment is a fancy word for entertainment. It keeps their minds stimulated.”

The zoo is accepting trees at 2912 Paradise Valley Road in Cleveland through Jan. 1. The trees must be free of chemicals and decorations, including tinsel, and still green. For guests who bring a tree with them to the zoo, they’ll get $1 off admission.

“Just a basic tree with all of the ornaments taken off,” Heck said. “We can’t have the tinsel because it’s really hard to get out of there and we don’t want the animals choking on the plastic from it. But just a bare tree that a family was going to toss out, we will happily take.”

Heck said the trees act as a natural dewormer for the animals as they chew on them and eat them. Even for the animals that don’t chew on the wood, Heck said the scent is good for keeping their minds stimulated and offering different textures they may not be used to rubbing up against. For others, the trees are simply something new to play on or with.

“They really enjoy going over and playing on them depending on the species of animal,” Heck said. “But the majority of animals get good use out of them.”

All of the animals at the zoo — from the lemurs to the birds of prey, from porcupines to arctic foxes — take advantage of the Christmas trees. For some animals, the trees get thrown over the fence as the animals run toward them, curious and excited. For others, like the kangaroos, they’re hung from above so the kangaroos can grab them and play with them that way.

For the wolves, it’s mainly about the scent.

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A wolf looks at a tour group at the North Georgia Zoo and Farm on Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

“It gives them something else to play with, but they’re so scent-oriented, it gives them something different to be around,” Heck said.

Odis Sisk, area director for New Urban Forestry, said that smell and the presence of trees in general can help animals in different ways.

“A lot of the animals that live in zoos -- they may have been in their previous lives wild animals,” Sisk said. “So those animals, coming from a background of having that kind of nature around them, they find having trees not only comforting, but in some cases it’s just stimulation of having something new to play with.”

Throughout the zoo’s Winter Wonderland Tour, guests get to see the trees tossed over the fence into the pens where the animals are living. Heck said it’s a unique experience and something everyone has enjoyed in years past.

“We use lots of different things naturally, but this time of year so many people get the live trees,” Heck said. “We’re all about reduce, reuse, recycle. So if we can take advantage of something that's going to get thrown in the dump, we’d like to use it for our animals to benefit from.”

Sisk said organic things like trees — as long as there’s nothing strange on them from holiday festivities — are perfect, and safe, presents for animals to enjoy in the weeks after the Christmas holiday.

“In most cases, this only happens one season, but that tree lasts for quite some time,” Sisk said. “It’s going to go through all different changes. As it’s biodegrading and changing, animals will use it differently.”

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