Zoo to ring in holidays with ‘Presents for Primates’

December 6, 2011 - 8:00am

Chimps and orangutans enjoy holiday-themed enrichment Dec. 17–18

Oregon Zoo primates will celebrate the holidays a little early this year. Chimpanzees and orangutans will receive food-filledgift boxes and quilts from their Secret Santas – i.e., zoo primate keepers – at the annual Presents for Primates, Saturday, Dec. 17 (chimps), and Sunday, Dec. 18 (orangs), at 10:30 a.m.

"Zoo animals receive enrichment year round, but when it comes to the holiday season, we’ve developed this great tradition of giving the primates themed items that are fun for visitors, too,” said Dave Thomas, senior primate keeper. “The orangutans’ and chimpanzees’ gifts encourage them to use their foraging skills – they’ll have to work and think to get the food out of their presents.


Members of the zoo’s volunteer enrichment team create the festive enrichment items, while keepers and zoo veterinarians plan the contents. The primates’ food treats will include popcorn, cereal, raisins and other dried fruit. All of the enrichment items are made from nontoxic materials. 

“The animals get very excited at Presents for Primates and can get carried away,” Thomas said. “After they eat the food in their presents, they sometimes start chewing on the presents themselves. We make sure everything the chimps and orangs receive is safe to eat, just in case.”

In addition to presents, the primates will receive a holly wreath, candlestick and other holiday items made from braided cardboard and paper, as well as a cardboard train with lots of hiding places for tasty treats.

In the wild, orangutans and chimpanzees forage for food throughout the day, and enrichment items like these gifts challenge them to use their foraging skills. This is the 10th year the primates have received boxed and wrapped food items for the holidays, but providing enrichment is a routine task for zookeepers. The Oregon Zoo is known internationally for its enrichment programs, which encourage natural behaviors and keep animals mentally and physically stimulated. Enrichment is tailored to the needs of specific animals by the zoo’s keepers and volunteer enrichment team.