You look a bit like Rudolph ... Santa dishes out treats at Zoo
LIONS and tigers at Dublin Zoo are not looking forward to a Christmas Day feast -- in fact they won't be fed at all that day.
The big cats will get meat on Christmas Eve and nothing to eat again until St Stephen's Day.
Its not a question of neglect, however, the routine is essential to their health.
Zookeeper Ciaran McMahon, who is in charge of the big cats, elephants, gorillas, orang utans and apes, will be working on Christmas Day and his aim is to "keep the routine as close to normal as possible."
In the case of the cats "they gorge on food and then sleep it off so they are only fed every second day and are not due any food on Christmas Day itself".
Elephants and apes too are creatures of routine so a skeleton staff will keep them to their normal feeding schedules right through the holiday period.
Elephants need to be fed several times a day. "If we gave them all the food at once they would eat it immediately so for their health we have to spread it out."
Santa took some time out of his hectic schedule to say a quick hello to the giraffes and help with feeding.
The hundreds of animals at the Zoo need 24-hour care so staff will work in short bursts of a couple of hours at a time over the holidays.
"We will be in early each day and take it in turns to go home for a few hours," Mr McMahon explained.
The staff will also use high tech infra-red and other camera equipment to keep an eye on their charges through their lap-tops and phones.
Mr McMahon added that Dublin Zoo is "right at the top of the pyramid" in terms of zoos worldwide with staff from other zoos coming to train with the Irish zookeepers on a regular basis.
"We've had phenomenal changes here in the past 15 years and gone from 230,000 visitors a year in 1995 to over a million this year," he said.
"We've had people from Australia, America, Singapore, all over the world, coming to work with us, particularly on our elephant programme, where we have developed a system so we don't share any physical space with them."
This helps maintain the herd dynamic, allowing the elephants to organise themselves and sort out any herd disputes without keepers interfering. In the coming year Dublin Zoo hopes to breed Asiatic lions, which are an endangered species with their numbers down to 400 in their native India.
They already have two lionesses and are awaiting the arrival of a male cat.
They also have a new bull elephant and are hoping to breed more elephants. The last baby elephant was born at the Zoo five years ago.