Once a year around this time, the Oakland Zoo Keepers seek to find as many pumpkins as possible. On November 1st you might see three large OZ dump trucks on the freeway stacked with hundreds of pumpkins in tow. The next few days after Halloween are busy ones for us, as we make multiple runs to the local patches back and forth from the zoo. This is a huge task which requires lots of helping hands, strong biceps, and aching backs. When the trucks are loaded and on their way back to the zoo, a call is made to the rest of the keepers, staff, and volunteers, who all meet in one of our four pumpkin zone designated areas. An assembly line is created from the truck bed to the ground where pumpkins which can weigh well over sixty pounds are passed from person to person and then gently placed down to prevent them from cracking and rotting. Strenuous and timely, the keepers are exhausted, sore, and satisfied, knowing that they got a good work out and they are going to make their animals very happy with fun enrichment in many forms. From birds to bears and elk to elephants there are many animals here that enjoy the pumpkin in its many forms. The keepers get creative in all sorts of ways to entertain the animals. Since many of the smaller animals can’t eat the pumpkins, the keepers will carve shapes into the pumpkin, hide food treats inside, then close it up again so the animal has to find the food inside. For the birds it can be used as a new obstacle or piece of
furniture in their habitat, or as a house, and the seeds can be saved and fed out. The bigger hoof stock and elephants love to eat them. If you visit you might see the elephant keepers at the top of the exhibit bowling the pumpkins out into the habitat, as the elephants chase after them. Another elephant favorite is the pumpkin popsicle. These are popsicles that are filled with chunks of fruit and diluted kool-aide, which are then frozen and hung from a piece of chain. The fun part of this pumpkin form is that it makes it difficult for the elephants to eat them quickly. After about twenty minutes of tusking, stomping, and throwing, the pumpkin finally starts to give and the elephants are refreshed with the homemade goody. To some animals like the tigers, the pumpkins can be a fun cat toy to bat around and claw at, and even sometimes munch on! Halloween is a fun and creative time for us here at the zoo, but it also takes a lot of time, dedication, and team work! Thank you to all the patches that have donated pumpkins. Come join us in costume and collect treats on October 30th and 31st for our annual Boo at the Zoo family fun event!