Keepers at West Midland Safari Park have been getting into the Christmas spirit this week by treating their mob of mischievous meerkats to their very own Christmas tree.

As people up and down the country put up their decorations and hang baubles on their own Christmas trees, keepers have been busy ensuring that their Christmas decorations serve a greater purpose – to double as enrichment for the animals in their care.

The Park is currently celebrating the festive season with its annual Santa Safari event, in which over 350 trees have been ordered to help transform the Park’s Discovery Trail into a winter wonderland. Any surplus trees are donated to the animals.

For the meerkats, who are naturally inquisitive, smaller Christmas trees were planted in their enclosures and adorned with baubles full of one of their favourite treats – mealworms.

Deputy Head Keeper, Lisa Watkins, said, “The keepers at West Midland Safari Park work hard to provide our animals with lots of varied enrichment, which is a way of encouraging natural behaviours. As Christmas is fast approaching, we wanted to offer the meerkats a festive treat, so the spare Christmas trees were a perfect choice and stopped them from going to waste too.

“The trees provided our meerkats with lots of new textures and smells, plus also acted as an exciting new climbing frame to carry out sentry duty (when they climb somewhere high to look out for danger). We drilled small holes into the baubles and filled them with mealworms, which encouraged the meerkats to be physically and mentally active during the cold weather. They had to work at teasing the worms out of the holes, just like they would do in the wild and also enjoyed digging at the base of the tree, to try to topple it over!’

The meerkats weren’t the only animals benefitting from some seasonal enrichment, as the Park’s pair of Sumatran tigers, Hujan and Nakal, also enjoyed discovering the new smells and textures of their Christmas trees, with the added bonus of finding meat amongst the branches.

Guests visiting during Santa Safari, which is running on selected dates throughout December, might be lucky enough to spot other forms of festive enrichment around the Park, such as shiny baubles for the penguins, bamboo decorations for the lorikeets and cardboard box presents for the lions.

Additionally, during the event, families will be magically transported to the North Pole, where they will be able to pay a visit to Santa in his grotto. Children will get a memento of their day by having a picture of themselves with Santa to take home and they’ll be able to choose their very own present in the elves’ workshop.

Also included in the package is a visit to Mrs Claus’ Kitchen, where children can receive a drink and cookie, whereas adults are treated to a mulled wine and mince pie.

The meerkats and tigers can be seen as part of admission to Santa Safari, which is £25.00 for adults, £20.00 for children aged 3-15 years, £9.00 for children under the age of three and £23.00 for concessions. Admission includes a winter Free Return Ticket and savings of up to 20% can be made by booking in advance online.

Group and school discounts are also available and Annual Pass holders or visitors using their Free Return Ticket can upgrade to Santa Safari by booking ahead. The Adventure Theme Park is closed during the winter season.

Further information and discounted tickets are available from the Park’s website www.wmsp.co.uk or by telephone 01299 402114. Find out more on the Safari Park’s official Facebook page: www.facebook.com/WestMidSafari.