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Watch how happy an old Christmas tree makes this Maymont bear

Posted at 12:02 PM, Jan 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-15 12:32:51-05

RICHMOND, Va. – It was a home decoration and symbol of the holiday for most, but watch how a Christmas tree becomes a fun toy for this Maymont bear.

There are two bears at Maymont, Midnight and Phoenix – or big bear and little bear, respectively – who roam about their pondfront, two-acre enclosure. They made their way to the park via the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, as a majority of the park’s animals do; many of the animals are unable to survive in the wild.

Staff at Maymont prep enrichment items intended to engage the animals

Staff at Maymont prep enrichment items intended to engage the animals. PHOTO: Maymont

The Maymont animal keepers regularly add what they call enrichment items to the animal pens. The items added often reflect the season’s changes, and are intended to encourage natural behaviors from native wildlife.

For summer,  watermelons with holes bored into it, with carrots plugging the holes are added to pens. For Halloween the theme was spooky, with wood tombstones, bales of straw and strange creatures added to delight animals and visitors.

The other day, staff brought in their old Christmas trees (this isn’t open to the public, don’t even think about it) and distributed them to animals around the park.

“It’s one of many things to keep them engaged, keep them interested and allows them to mimic behaviors they would have in the world,” said Carla Murray. “To try to make sure they have healthy fulfilled lives.”

The goats gathered around the trees and sniffed and rubbed their horns, Murray said. But it was Big Bear that seemed to love his toy the most.

Midnight, AKA Big Bear, has been at Maymont since 2008.

Midnight, AKA Big Bear, has been at Maymont since 2008.

Little bear wasn’t very interested, but his pen mate rolled around, snuggled and played with the discarded tree.

The park operates on winter hours now, every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.,  at 1700 Hampton Street.  There are three different areas with about 400 animals total between the children’s farm, nature center, wildlife exhibits.

The nature center plays host to creatures native to the James River, though recently seahorses were added, along with species that live in the Chesapeake Bay. And there are some alligators at the center, which are sort of native to the region -- they can be found just about 12 miles from the North Carolina border.

Murray said that with climate change, a reemerging alligator population in the commonwealth is possible. That sounds like another story in itself.