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New Times / Art

The following article was posted on December 21st, 2011, in the New Times - Volume 26, Issue 21 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from New Times [] - Volume 26, Issue 21

Wild Christmas

'Holiday Magic at the Zoo' lets critters celebrate the season


If some jerk held a gun to my head and gave me 15 seconds to name two things cooler than monkeys, I’d probably blurt out “Ninjas!” and spend the last 14 seconds of my life hemming and hawing before getting my monkey-loving brains blasted out everywhere.* It would be messy and tragic, but it would prove a point: Monkeys freakin’ rule.

Some of the zoo’s monkeys are diabetic, so the staff has to be very strict with their diets. Stockings were stuffed with fruits and veggies, but the monkeys still had fun investigating the brightly colored gifts.

That’s why, on Dec. 17, I found myself front and center for “Holiday Magic at the Zoo,” a yearly tradition at Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero that features a Santa-ly suited zookeeper swooping into wild animal enclosures to hand out Christmas presents (or Hanukkah gifts, to be fair to the Jewish meerkats). According to senior zookeeper Kate Capela, the gifts mostly consist of the animals’ regular dietary provisions, but the bright colors and a few embellishments make it a special treat.

“We rubbed blood on the gift boxes and Christmas trees for the tiger and fossa,” Capela said. “They’re carnivores, so you play by their rules.”

Scott Ellis brought out a horned owl and explained that their big, powerful eyes are entirely unable to shift like ours. Instead, owl eyes are always focused straight ahead. They have to turn at their necks to look at new things.

A blood-covered Christmas? That might sound gross to namby-pamby humans, but it also sounds like a sweet name for a metal band’s holiday album.

Zookeepers started the tradition eight years ago, and Capela said it’s one of their favorite events. Other happenings are aimed at increasing attendance and conservation awareness, but this is one day that’s really all about the animals.

“It’s really fun for us to watch them enjoy themselves,” Capela said.

Kids are known to attack their presents like wild animals, but wild animals really attack like wild animals. This box of meat didn’t stand a chance.

It’s also fun for everyone else, especially me—and possibly children, I guess. There were definitely a ton of the runts standing between me and my monkeys. They were smiling and laughing, so there’s that, if you were wondering. Plus, the zoo served hot chocolate and set up a craft stand for ornament making.

Now, monkeys are a bona-fide sure thing for quality entertainment and playfulness, but some zoo animals are almost always a drag-filled nap fest. Tigers, warthogs, and wallabies generally don’t do much, but this time around, they were tearing boxes to pieces and swatting at trees and hopping all over the place like they were some kind of monkeys.

And the monkeys were like super monkeys on crack! This one guy was hanging upside down by his tail inspecting his stocking all inquisitive and cute-like, and the lemurs (whom I consider to be striped monkeys, essentially, despite the fact that that’s pretty inaccurate) were fighting like crazy over their presents.

Sure, all the boxes are tossed around like yesterday’s salad, but look at the tree in the background. Even that couldn’t last an hour with these party animals.

I named the boss lemur Big Red, and he smacked the crap out of any monkey that even came close to his Christmas present. Then, Big Red would just stroll around the enclosure making everybody else drop their gifts and literally high tail it to another tree branch. It was awesome and shriek-filled, and I loved every second.

All in all, it was a pretty stellar day at the zoo, and my daughter and I got in for just $9, which was about the only holiday entertainment we could afford after dropping ridiculous dollar amounts on people presents. Next year, the kid gets meat in a bloody box and that’s that.

*Jet packs! Dammit. Too bad I’m already dead.

Calendar Editor Nick Powell smells like a monkey and looks like one, too. Send bananas and stuff to