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Zoo asks residents to donate old trees
North GA Zoo pic1
Tawnya Williams, compound manager at North Georgia Zoo in Cleveland, gives a tree branch to alpacas and sheep on a recent afternoon. The zoo is asking people to donate their live Christmas trees because the animals enjoy playing with and chewing on them. - photo by Sara Guevara DCN regional staff

Humans don’t have many practical uses for a browning Christmas tree. But animals, apparently, go nuts over them.


That’s why the owners of North Georgia Zoo near Cleveland are asking people to give them old Christmas trees. They make great toys and treats for animals, said owner Hope Bennett, and provide endless entertainment.


Monkeys become entranced with pulling at the bark.


“They’re fascinated by it,” Bennett said. “They just think there is something underneath there so they’ll sit there for hours and do that.”


The farm animals will pull the needles off and then chew at the branches. Pine trees also are a natural dewormer for livestock and help keep them healthy, Bennett said.


The zoo’s cougar will toss a tree around like a play toy.


Parrots will pick at pieces that the staff chop up.


The trees are thrown into the habitats whole, Bennett said. At the end of the winter, zoo keepers pull out what’s left — normally very little — and burn it.


“It’s an amazingly rewarding experience to watch them; when we put a tree in, they just go crazy,” she said. “All of the goats will run up and chew on it. The camels come up and push it around.”


In previous years, the zoo has picked up leftover trees that didn’t sell at Christmas tree lots, but this year, Bennett said, all of the lots they contacted sold out before the holiday.


Last year, those pickups and individual donations amounted to about 50 trees.

Tree donations are being accepted at three locations: Ash Brothers Feed in Cleveland, Clarkesville Veterinary Clinic in Clarkesville and The Torch Worship Center in Demorest.


Trees can also be dropped off at the zoo in Cleveland, but the owners ask that individuals call (706) 348-7279 before they bring their donation. Trees must be free of chemicals and decorations, and of course, no plastic.