Valdosta Daily Times

December 22, 2012

A Wild Christmas!

Quinten Plummer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — A new tradition may have started at Wild Adventures Friday afternoon, when animal trainers treated a pair of lions to gift-wrapped turkey and presented an eight-pound candy cane to an elephant named Shirley.

Sisters Nyla and Sarabi, 16-year-old lions, paced their enclosure in anticipation of their gifts, though their trainers insisted that every precaution had been taken to ensure that the big cats weren’t tipped off to the turkeys.

Turkey isn’t a normal part of the lions’ diets, said Public Relations Coordinator Micha Hogan adding the park always looks for ways to break the monotony of captivity. Hogan said the trainers had to distance the two gift boxes to prevent friction between the two sisters.

“We have to separate their presents to prevent sibling rivalry,” said Hogan. “They normally sleep about 20 hours a day, but they’ve been more active in the cold weather. But I’m sure they’ll need a nap after digesting all of the tryptophan inside of the turkeys.”

After a brief period of isolation, the two sisters were allowed back into their main enclosure and the siblings immediately spotted the bright red-and-green, gift-wrapped anomalies that had been left in the cage. Nyla and Sarabi each set their sights on a different present, ripped through the wrapping paper and each retrieved a raw turkey before the swelling crowd outside of the enclosure.

As the turkeys turned to scraps, the crowd dissolved and another gathering began forming nearby. A delegation of trainers slowly escorted Shirley, the park’s Asian elephant and monarch, to an anxious crowd gathered at the fence on the far side of her pond.

Trainers unveiled an eight-pound, three-foot-tall candy cane, as the procession halted in front of a line of Shirley’s

supporters. Hogan said the enormous peppermint stick, 100 times the typical size, was crafted by Lofty Pursuits of Tallahassee, Fla.

“We haven’t given her candy canes before, but we know she likes sweet things,” said Hogan. “She loves apples and sweet potatoes, and she even eats Pop Tarts occasionally. So we thought an oversized candy cane would make a festive treat for her.”

Shirley appeared to be enjoying the delicacy, as her trunk trawled the chilled ground for peppermint fragments. And for those wondering just how much cold the matronly elephant can endure, one of Shirley’s trainers stated that he had worked with an elephant in Alaska that would wear snow shows whenever it went out for a walk.