Hogle Zoo’s elephants are ‘total hams’ for Thanksgiving — and the giant pumpkins that come with it

Hogle Zoo • It’s a special day for the animals, with treats and toys and throngs of people to entertain.<br>

Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) Husani the gorilla snacks on a Thanksgiving treat at Salt Lake City's Hogle Zoo on Thursday, November 23, 2017.

The elephants at Hogle Zoo were super excited on Thanksgiving morning.

Christie, a 31-year-old African elephant, and her 8-year-old daughter, Zuri, swayed back and forth, flapping their ears. Which is not their normal morning behavior.

They’re really excited,” said zookeeper Abby Green. “This is one of their favorite days. And they’re total hams.”

Thanksgiving is Feast with the Beast day at the zoo. And it’s a big day for Christie and Zuri. A big day with big pumpkins that weigh between 300 pounds and 400 pounds. Giant pumpkins that the elephants stomped open as hundreds of kids and adults looking on oohed and aahed.

Zuri gets excited by the crowd, too,” Green said. “She’s having a great time.”

Some of the folks who started growing the pumpkins way back in April were on hand to enjoy the show, too.

It’s a beautiful way to celebrate the end of the season,” said Richard Glassford of Lindon, a member of the Utah Giant Pumpkin Growers organization. “This is the best thing to do with the pumpkins at the end of the season.”

It, however, wasn’t just about destruction. Elephants think pumpkins are delicious, and they took clear delight in scarfing them down.

It’s not something they get year-round,” said community relations manager Erica Hansen, “so pumpkins are a special treat.”

For other animals, the pumpkins were toys. The lions looked like a litter of giant kittens, batting smaller pumpkins around, jumping up on and chewing larger ones, and making a determined effort to roll one of the really big ones down a hill.

And, by the way, pumpkins float. Which made them great toys for a couple of the zoo’s newest residents, polar bears Hope and Nora.

But Thanksgiving at Hogle Zoo wasn’t all about pumpkins. Workers gave animals other treats, as well as papier-mache turkeys and turkey legs sprayed with perfumes. The big cats “are really excited about scented items,” said Hogle staffer Beth Wegner. “And we want them to enjoy them even more.”

(And, no, it doesn’t hurt the lions if they swallow some of the papier-mache.)

The zoo staff had Thanksgiving treats and toys for animals throughout the facility — giraffes, zebras, seals, sea lions, wolves and the bobcat, who’s also new to the zoo.

Feast with the Beast is a tradition at the zoo. And a tradition for families like the Dreyers, who have been visiting Hogle on Thanksgiving morning for a decade — since 10-year-old Aiden was an infant. Thirteen-year-old Libertie said she can’t remember a time when she didn’t spend part of the holiday there with her family.

We still have our turkey and our pumpkin pie and all of that. But this is what we do on Thanksgiving morning,” said Breanna Dreyer, Aiden and Libertie’s mom.

After this, we’ll go home and start getting food together,” said David Dreyer, Breanna’s husband.

We don’t eat at 2, but , hey, that’s OK,” Breanna Dreyer added.

The Dreyers said this was the first year they could remember the great apes being outside on Thanksgiving, because the temperature was already in the high 50s by midmorning. And, while by no means overcrowded, the zoo was bustling and the parking lot was full.

We’ve come when it was 16 degrees outside,” Breanna said. “We all showed up with extra layers and hot chocolate.”

That’s a lot of fun because not everyone comes when it’s that cold,” said Kathy Dreyer, Breanna’s mother-in-law. “It’s really the best time to come to the zoo.”