Seasonal Delicacy Germany's Elephants Finish their Christmas Tree Dinners

Elephants in zoos across Germany have spent January devouring Christmas trees and supplies are now drying up. Many traders hand their unsold stock to zoos. The trees provide roughage that helps keep the animals regular.


For anyone who wondered what happens to Christmas trees that don't get sold in Germany, here's the answer: Elephants eat them.

It's become a tradition at many zoos to supplement the diet of their elephants with pine trees supplied by market traders who would otherwise simply throw them away.

"Elephants like to eat wood, it's important for their digestion because it gives them roughage, especially in winter when there aren't many leaves on the trees," Thomas Kauffels, director of the Opel Zoo near Frankfurt, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

The zoo received 300 trees from traders this year for its three fully grown African elephants, and they have finished devouring them.

"We fed them one or two trees each per day," said Kauffels. "If we gave them 10 at a time they'd get picky and would only eat the tips."

The elephants only get trees that weren't sold -- used trees are too dried up to be tasty or nutritious, and there's a danger that the elephants could choke on a forgotten bauble or get an itchy throat from tinsel.

"Our elephants like the trees," said Kauffels. "I certainly haven't had any complaints."

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