Zookeepers at Fresno Chaffee Zoo brought a taste of Thanksgiving to the animals Thursday in the form of "turkeys" made of fruit, grains and vegetables.
Pumpkins served as turkey bodies, kale leaves as wings, carrots as necks, sweet potatoes for the heads and palm fronds as tails.
Thursday marked the first time zoo staff came up with the turkey theme for Thanksgiving, director Scott Barton said.
Visitors smiled as the animals chowed down on the creations.
"I think it's great that they get their own version of turkey," said Rebecca Musser of Fresno, as warthogs Zara and Bakki nervously attacked the strange new thing in their enclosure.
But the zookeepers' own Thanksgiving meals would have to wait.
Whereas Thanksgiving is a day off for many people, zookeepers have to work because "the animals have to be fed every day," Barton said.
The reaction of zoo visitors as they watch animals makes it all worth it, he said.
"People are happy when they are here," Barton said.
To make working a holiday shift easier for the staff, the zoo closed at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving.
The only day the zoo isn't open to the public is Christmas.
Lead bird keeper Jennifer Wesson said the job satisfaction is so high that no one complains about working on holidays.
"It's not a problem at all," Wesson said. "I'm the lead keeper, I can send the people in my section home early."
The Thanksgiving-themed food was amusing to zookeepers and visitors. But the animals know when there is something new in their enclosure like mock turkey, she said: "They'll watch it to make sure it's safe."
It's OK to vary the routine for the animals, zookeepers said. There's even a name for it: "enrichment."
"They are enriching the environment," said Kent Yamaguchi, director of the Santa Ana zoo, who was in Fresno to visit relatives and stopped by Chaffee.
"I've never seen the Thanksgiving theme before. Maybe we should steal the idea."
The warthogs were suspicious of their turkey-shaped food because that's their nature, said assistant zoo curator Lyn Myers. But when the hollowed-out pumpkin spilled its contents of fruit and grain, Zara, a female, and Bakki, a male, scarfed it up.
Not that there wasn't a hiccup.
"A squirrel stole the sweet potato (head), so I had to replace it," said zookeeper Alex Alamar, 23, who feeds the warthogs.
The elephants used their trunks to bat away palm frond tails on their faux fowl.
"It was cool," said Samantha Schramm, 9, of Clovis, a regular zoo visitor. "The elephant ripped the pumpkin apart."
The reporter can be reached (559) 441-6104, firstname.lastname@example.org
or @fb_LewGriswold on Twitter.