Christmas trees donated to Edinburgh Zoo lions

Lions are very fond of Christmas trees as they contain catnip, which can make them euphoric

Lions are very fond of Christmas trees as they contain catnip, which can make them euphoric

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The rubbish tip and compost heap await most Christmas trees as the festive season draws to a close.

But not at Edinburgh Zoo, where they are set to provide hours of fun to the animals thanks to a surprise donation from a landscaping firm.

Nic Houldsworth Landscape and Fencing has delivered a belated seasonal gift of more than 30 unsold spruce trees so the animals can use them as toys.

The trees are like “catnip for lions”, which like nothing better than biting on the trunks, ripping apart the branches and chewing on the bark.

Jo Elliot, animal collections manager at the zoo, said Christmas trees offered “great enrichment”, the scent proving particularly irresistible to big cats because of their heightened sense of smell.

She said: “Lots of species will be making the most of the trees over the next few days, from the lions who will likely enjoy wrestling and scent marking them, to smaller monkey species that will shelter and play with them.

“Other animals that particularly enjoy the Christmas trees are big cats, meerkats, sun bears and chimpanzees to name just a few.

“We happily accept small numbers of leftover pine trees, mainly from sellers, however they must be both unused and unsprayed.”

The Elgin-based landscaping firm, which recently opened a depot in Kirkliston, delivered the trees yesterday.

Business development director Arnie Sathiy decided to approach the zoo after reading about how much lions at Linton Zoological Gardens in Cambridgeshire loved Christmas trees.

The firm, which also raised £2000 for the Sick Kids Friends Foundation selling hundreds of trees, would otherwise have pulped the 35 unsold trees – including several Norway spruces and Nordmann Firs – and turned them into chip paper or toilet roll.

Owner Mr Houldsworth said: “What else were we going to do with them apart from mashing them up? So we said: ‘Let’s give them to the animals and they can play with them’.”

Christmas trees donated recently to Linton proved a big hit with the animals, particularly the lions.

It is thought that the lions love playing with the trees as they contain catnip – sometimes known as catmint, a plant of the mint family – which can create a state of euphoria in many cats.

Manager Dawn Greenwood said: “They throw it up in the air and drag them around the enclosure.

“The lions tend to sleep for a long time but once they decide to get out of bed and have a play, they really go for it.

“All ages and both sexes love it but males tend to scent mark more because that’s how they assert their dominance.

“They have a bit of a wrestle with them and try to lick the pine needles, throw them around and snuggle up to them. They also drag the trees inside their bedroom area.”

john.connell@edinburghnews.com