Blood, meat and a soft toy: Christmas comes a day early for Christchurch zoo animals

Christmas came a day early for the animals at Christchurch's Orana Park Zoo - and their celebrations aren't too dissimilar from how we spend the day. 

Lions bounded over and ripped open their presents - an excitement many of us can relate to on Christmas Day. 

Though perhaps not at what's inside these gifts: blood, meat and a soft toy.

"All the enrichment we provide is part of their nutrition of course, but it's presented in a different way," says Orana Wildlife Park's Nathan Hawke.

"We use various different things, such as scent or taste, and getting the animals to work for their treats."

The presents are so popular that sharing isn't an option. 

Some of us may leave our shopping to the last minute, but the keepers at Orana Wildlife Park always need to get in early.

"Our guys have been working on this for a number of weeks actually - particularly our busy elves, our volunteers, have been doing amazing work for us packaging all our gifts ahead of the day," says Hawke.

Over in the kea habitat it's a little more lax. Dressing the native Christmas tree is done on the day, with decorations made of seeds, nuts and fruit - the ultimate feast. 

The gorillas weren't as quick off the mark, but their eyes were firmly on the prize once they got going. 

It's a day as much for the animals as it is the people. 

"It's just such a magical amazing time," said one zoo attendee.

"I think it's awesome just to see them open their presents and stuff," said another.

The Kune Kune pigs were a little more polite. Their table manners, however, were a different story.

It's an extra special treat for these animals who've been let out of their enclosure. Because they can catch COVID-19 easily, they've been kept safely in their habitat most of the year. 

While we might view this as regular Christmas fare, they weren't on the menu here today.

The focus is more about the overall experience and not just the food.

"Anything from ripping things open or getting into sort of having a puzzle or a bit of work to be done, it's too easy giving them things on a silver platter," says staffer Maddy Hodge.

Let's hope we don't have to work as hard for our Christmas lunch tomorrow.