Wondering what to do with your wilting Christmas tree now that the holiday is finally over? Elephants will take it right off your hands. In what is the single most darling way to recycle your Christmas tree, certain zoos and sanctuaries around the world feed old trees to elephants each year. Yes, there is footage, and it is exactly as toe-curlingly cute as you're imagining. Please take this time to prepare yourself accordingly.
One of these sanctuaries is Tennessee's aptly named Elephant Sanctuary, which takes in elephants that were retired from zoos and circuses. Originally located on 200 acres, it now consists of three different habitats on more than 2,700 acres, allowing elephants that have spent most, if not all, of their lives in captivity to run around on far more land than they're used to. (It's closed to the public, but you can watch the elephants hanging out on "Elecams" set up around the property.) For the second year in a row, the sanctuary is accepting Christmas tree donations from middle Tennessee residents until Jan. 2.
As you may already know, elephants are on the larger side of the animal kingdom. In fact, according to National Geographic, they're the largest land animals; African elephants can grow to be 13 feet and more than 20,000 pounds. Such a huge body needs quite a bit of food to keep up, so elephants spend 12 to 18 hours a day chowing down on grass, tree foliage, bark, and other vegetation.
That's where Christmas tree donations come in. On its blog, the Elephant Sanctuary explains that these trees "provide enrichment and supplement the elephants’ decreased foraging opportunities during the winter months." Although they don't normally eat conifers, the trees are totally safe for them to consume, and the smell seems to attract them. Elephants deserve Christmas presents too — and it doesn't hurt that watching an elephant snack on a Christmas tree is strangely adorable. Behold.
That noise you heard was the sound of hundreds of hearts melting when the youngest elephant starts tossing around a branch like a football. To learn more about donating your own Christmas tree to the Elephant Sanctuary, head over to its website.
The Elephant Sanctuary is not the only one to feed its elephants Christmas (tree) dinner. The Berlin Zoo is famous for its annual feast of donated trees, and zoos in Oakland, Prague, and Schönbrunn take part as well.
If you don't live near enough to a sanctuary or zoo to donate your Christmas tree, there are plenty of other eco-friendly disposal options. Many cities have "treecycling" programs that put the trees to use, or if you have access to a wood chipper, you can chip your tree and use it for mulch. You can also check Pinterest for DIY ways to repurpose your tree, creating decorations or centerpieces. Finally, if you have a pond on your property, chunk the tree into the water to create a fish habitat — somewhere for the fish to breed and hide from predators. Some government programs will actually pick up your tree to do exactly that on public land.
It's also a good idea to start looking into eco-friendly options for next year. Artificial trees might seem like a solid choice, but research suggests that between the greenhouse emissions and use of resources, they would have to be reused for decades to offset the environmental cost. A better alternative might be something like California's Living Christmas Company, which allows you to rent trees; after the season is over, the tree is returned to the nursery and repotted for next year.
Humans may think that the holidays are the most wonderful time of the year, but Mother Earth might disagree. Keep that in mind while you figure out what to do with your Christmas tree this year.