Wildlife sanctuary animals take to Christmas tree donations 'like catnip'

Ruxandra Guidi/KPCC

A leopard ponders what to do with the Christmas tree in its cage. The rescued wild animals at the Wildlife WayStation are given trees, rosemary, and magnolia branches regularly, which they enjoy playing with in the same way that domestic cats like catnip.

Ruxandra Guidi/KPCC

One of the old tigers at the Wildlife WayStation sanctuary inspects a Christmas tree inside his cage.

Ruxandra Guidi/ KPCC

Maverick the bear ponders what to do with a Christmas tree inside his cage at the Wildlife WayStation sanctuary.

Ruxandra Guidi/KPCC

Martine Colette, founder of the Wildlife WayStation sanctuary in the Los Angeles National Forest.

Ruxandra Guidi/KPCC

A daily diet chart for Jade, a female leopard at the Wildlife WayStation in Angeles National Forest.

For 36 years the Wildlife Waystation has offered refuge for more than 400 aging tigers, lions, leopards, bears, and chimpanzees that were once pets or attractions in circuses and the entertainment industry.

Martine Colette is the sanctuary’s founder, and the daughter of a naturalist who took her along on safaris from the time she was little. Colette says the Waystation depends solely on individual donations - so coming up with the $4,000-a-year required to care and feed an African lion, for example, has been difficult in this economy.

“We’re just hanging on by the skin of our teeth, day to day to day. I keep hoping for a miracle,” says Colette, leading visitors through the 160-acre site.

Donors have offered the Waystation gifts and services from office equipment and veterinary supplies to Christmas trees. Fifteen years ago, volunteers at the sanctuary figured out that the wild animals here love rubbing up against the trees and playing with them — the same way that domestic cats love catnip.

“When an animal lives in an environment, it’s nice to introduce new sounds, new smells, new sights, textures, into their environment," Colette explains. "And Christmas trees are a very popular item—so this is their fun time, when they get this really nice piney smell.”

Oliver Holt and Sons Christmas Trees donated 70 unsold pines. The Waystation’s army of almost 400 volunteers has placed one in each of the big mammals’ cages throughout Wednesday.


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