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  The giraffes at the Detroit Zoo check out their seasonal treats during the Smashing  Pumpkins event Oct. 21.

The giraffes at the Detroit Zoo check out their seasonal treats during the Smashing Pumpkins event Oct. 21.

Photo by Donna Agusti

Smashing Pumpkins activity delights visitors at Detroit Zoo

Animals get pumpkin treats for Halloween

By: Sarah Wojcik | C&G Newspapers | Published October 27, 2017

ROYAL OAK — Levels of Vitamin Z were high at the Detroit Zoo during the Smashing Pumpkins seasonal event Saturday, Oct. 21.

From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., crowds of zoo-goers followed the schedule as zookeepers placed pumpkins, many filled with some of the zoo animals’ favorite treats, in the animals’ enclosures.

The schedule included chimpanzees, grizzly bears, giraffes, vultures, wolves, a wolverine, anteaters, camels and otters.

Elizabeth Arbaugh, the zoo’s mammal curator, said the zoo offered the Smashing Pumpkins event once during the week and once on the weekend so that it could reach the most people. Around Halloween, the zoo offers its inhabitants seasonal fare from local producers.

“We provide things for the animals every single day. The zookeepers make sure all of our animals have what they need to be physically and emotionally stimulated — by food items or by other items that bring out natural behaviors,” Arbaugh said. “On days like today, when we have these fun seasonal things, we put it on the schedule so our guests can enjoy (it) as well.”

Arbaugh said some of the hidden goodies included a bone and meat for the wolverine, chicken for the wolves, and produce for the bears.

“Some of them like to eat the goodies that are inside, and then some of them, like you can see the anteaters here, they eat the goodies and then they tear (the pumpkins) apart and enjoy just playing with it,” she said. “(Anteaters) have strong front claws, and it’s a natural behavior to tear things apart, because that’s how they get to termites and bugs.”

Walt Cytacki, of Grosse Pointe, happened to be on a personal tour of the zoo at the right time and place to witness the chimpanzees receive their harvest treat. He said the last time he had been to the zoo was approximately 20 years ago.

“There were two or three of them playing together. One chimpanzee already had a pumpkin open, and another chimpanzee grabbed the pumpkin and climbed up that tree and held it in his mouth,” Cytacki said. “By the time he got up on top, he was upside-down with it still in his mouth, then curled up on top.”

As he was talking, more chimpanzees ascended the tree, some with their own pumpkins in their mouths. Cytacki chuckled as Zuhura, a 4-year-old female chimpanzee, swung from the tree branches.

“Wow, look at that,” he said.

Mary Jones, of Chesterfield Township, came to the zoo for the Smashing Pumpkins event with her great-nephews — Connor Jones, 3, and Austin Jones, who turned 1 that day — and their parents and grandparents. She stood on a bench to get photos of the grizzly bears digging in.

“I was getting excited to see the pumpkins. … They said the bears are going to come out, and I didn’t realize they were going to smash them. They just pounced on them. They wanted to get inside,” Jones said.

Cara Fox and Jennifer Berens, both of Troy, brought their kids — Risa Fox, 6, and Austin Berens, 5. They had been at the Zoo Boo event the night before and decided to come back. They found a prime spot for watching the giraffes receive their treats.

“Some of the giraffes are just knocking their pumpkins over, and some are just eating the leaves from inside the pumpkins,” said Risa Fox. “I think they’re cute.”

The vultures used their beaks to try to dislodge long grassy reeds threaded through their pumpkins. One vulture raised its wings, lowered its head and advanced on other vultures exploring the latest addition to their habitat.

Derek Brown and Cindy Salveta, both of Chesterfield Township, heard about the event online and came out in time to watch the gray wolves — the male Kaskapahtew (“Kaska”) and female Waziyata (“Wazi”) — receive their pumpkins.

“They ran out, and he’s grabbing the pumpkins so she can’t get them,” Salveta said.

Brown, who attended the opening of the wolf exhibit, remarked on the wolves’ behavior.

“Look at her. She’s not happy with him coming to take her pumpkin,” he said. “He stashed two pumpkins over there. She started eating it. He doesn’t eat anything; he just takes it, and she does not like it.”

When Anna, the zoo’s female wolverine, received her treat, several football-minded people commented on the University of Michigan’s football team, which was set to face Penn State University later that day.

Anna rolled her pumpkin with her head and paws, picked up a piece of the pumpkin in her jaws, ran a lap around her enclosure and climbed a tree with her prize.

The camels did not appear particularly excited about their pumpkins, checking them out for a few moments before seemingly losing interest.

The otter seemed to enjoy the attention of the crowd, frolicking around its 9,000-gallon aquatic area to the exclamations of the young and old gathered for the Smashing Pumpkins event. However, when zookeepers dropped the pumpkins into the water, the otter appeared to catch a scare and bolted into the foliage near the fence on the far side of the enclosure.

“It’s a beautiful day, so it’s wonderful to be here at the zoo,” Arbaugh said. “I’ve noticed that people go from one event to the next event to the next event and just enjoy all the animals, seeing them up close. Our zookeepers have been out and mingling with the crowd and answering questions, so it’s been a fun day.”

For more information about the Detroit Zoo, call (248) 541-5717 or visit