The self-proclaimed world’s oldest zoo has fed a 150-year-old fir tree that served as the Christmas tree at the Schoenbrunn Palace Christmas Market to its delighted African elephants for them to munch on.
Schoenbrunn Zoo gave the large Christmas tree to its elephants in the Austrian capital Vienna yesterday (11th January). It was the one that graced the Schoenbrunn Christmas Market, which is located every year in front of the imperial palace.
The huge tree was chopped up and given to the zoo’s elephants for breakfast. The zoo said in a statement: “There was a present for breakfast today for the African elephants in Schoenbrunn Zoo: Christmas tree branches for the whole herd.
“The fir tree from the Steyrtal Federal Forestry Operation in Upper Austria, which previously graced the Schoenbrunn culture and Christmas market, was felled today and handed over to the herd of five elephants. They obviously had fun with the traditional winter surprise.”
The zoo said that the elephants enjoyed nibbling at the rare delicacy, saying: “The female elephant, Numbi, was the first to brave the fragrant fir tree. With a small branch she dashed back to Tonga the elephant and her daughters Mongu and Iqhwa. Shortly afterwards, the bull elephant Tembo plunged into the woody adventure. Together they nibbled and plucked curiously at the needles and branches and pulled the prickly wood through the entire complex.”
Zoo director Stephan Hering-Hagenbeck said: “The untreated tree serves the elephants primarily as a creative activity. They scrape off the bark and use it as a scratching post, for example. A welcome change for our elephant herd.”
The zoo added: “Experts from the City of Vienna’s Forestry Office took care of the scheduled handover of the Christmas tree. At 8am they felled the 18-metre- (59-foot-) high and 150-year-old fir tree in the courtyard in front of the Schoenbrunn Palace. The softwood was then cut into pieces and transported to the neighbouring zoo by truck.”
Christmas market organiser Gabriela Schmidle (MTS Vienna) said she was pleased to be able to celebrate the beginning of the year with this tradition, saying: “The handing over of the Christmas tree to the elephants has become a New Year’s custom that I have come to love.
“I couldn’t imagine a nicer way to end the Schloss Schoenbrunn culture and Christmas market.”
Some Christmas trees have been repurposed in this manner in Vienna since 2008, “helping the elephants in Schoenbrunn Zoo to receive a late Christmas present.”
Many of the other Christmas trees displayed in the Austrian capital are burnt and the energy is converted into electricity and heat.