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Beastly Feast

Happy Hollow's Thanksgiving dinner is a walk on the wild side

By Jessica Lyons

ZULA, THE PYGMY hippo at Happy Hollow Zoo, gets to eat her Thanksgiving Day dinner before the other animals do. She's first in line at the zoo's annual Thanksgiving "Feast for the Beasts" event. On Nov. 25, kids and those young at heart can watch all 150 animals enjoy raw fish, crickets, mealworms and other wild kingdom delectables.

"It doesn't matter if they are big or small," says zoo spokesperson Vanessa Rogier. "Everyone is included in the feast. Even the frogs get crickets."

But before the frogs are fed, Zula gets her grub. Zoo staff float a pumpkin filled with exotic fruit across the pygmy hippo's private pond toward Zula, who likes to sunbathe on the other side. Zula takes advantage of eating in the water, however, using the bottom of her pool to pin the larger pumpkin pieces down. She can hold her breath for extended periods of time, so eating underwater is not a problem for Zula.

Zoo-goers will also watch two fishing cats hunt and eat live fish, meerkats dine on hard-boiled eggs, mealworms, crickets and pomegranates, and a jaguar named Jezebel devour a pumpkin filled with trout.

Jezebel paws at the glass as I look at her through the window. Then she returns to a sunny spot in the cage. For Jezebel, half the fun of the feast is in playing with her food, Rogier says. "She demolishes the pumpkin. She throws it around and shreds it and eats it, and then later she eats the fish."

Two black-and-white ruffed lemurs will celebrate their first Thanksgiving with Happy Hollow this year. The happy couple, Leo and Mahaly, in the zoo's "honeymoon suite" will sit down to a dinner of fruit, mashed potatoes, cooked yams and trail mix.

"But they don't know what to expect yet," Rogier says. Zoo staff, on the other hand, look forward to the event all year, Rogier says.

"It's our favorite event. It gives us a chance to slow down and connect with the animals, and it's also a great event for our guests."

The animals aren't complaining, either.

It's more than just a special treat, Rogier says. The feast challenges the animals. That means the fishing cats have to hunt for their food, monkeys must find mealworms and fruits hidden in pants pockets and tied-off pant legs, and meerkats have to crack the hard-boiled eggs themselves before they can eat them.

Even at the zoo, there's no such thing as a free lunch. There's no thanksgiving prayer, but because of the presentation, the animals have to go back to their wild roots before they can eat. Except for the five potbellied pigs that hang out in the center of the zoo.

"I'd say these guys eat their food the quickest," Rogier says. "Once they get to the food, there's not much left."

The Feast for the Beasts will take place Nov. 25 from 11am to 1pm at Happy Hollow Zoo, 1300 Senter Road. Admission is $4.50 for patrons ages 2 to 64.

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From the November 24-December 1, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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