CASWELL COUNTY, N.C. – When the Christmas season has come and gone, the Cranberry Tree Farm in Laurel Springs is left with a number of unsold, unused trees. But instead of tossing them in the trash, they throw the trees to the lions.
"Its huge every year, getting to see the animals play and have a wonderful time because it's your heart and soul when you do this kind of work," said Julia Matson, of the Conservators' Center.
Tigers, leopards, lions and wolves at the Conservators' Center in Caswell County were given the chance to frolic and play with the enticing holiday trees. And for the first time, the public was invited to join in the fun.
"It's awesome. I've never been so close to the animals before. I've been to Yellowstone and seen wolves out in the distance, but I've never been as close,” said Colleen Larusso, of Graham.
Zoo workers and volunteers say it's important to stimulate the minds of those animals. And they say a great way of doing that is by offering them Christmas trees that act as a sort of catnip for lions and tigers.
"The guys will come over and sniff it and make the flaming face and then they'll roll around on it and play and bounce and doing that helps keep their minds occupied. That and other forms of enrichment," said center volunteer Frank Pyne.
"And providing enrichment to our animals is absolutely critical because it gives them something to do throughout the day so they don't grow bored," said Matson.
Once the animals finish with the trees, they will be recycled into mulch.
The Conservators' Center is a rescue and conservation facility focused on educational programs and the rescue and placement of animals in need. The center offers educational tours and welcomes visitors, but only by appointment.