A baby elephant at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo has enjoyed her first taste of Christmas after keepers created a woody winter wonderland for the youngster to explore – officially beginning the countdown to Christmas at the UK’s largest zoo.
Three-month-old endangered Asian elephant Nang Phaya was treated to a 20-foot-high forest of Christmas trees to explore, play with and snack on - with mum Donna, grandma Kaylee and the rest of her herd joining in the festive fun, kindly donated by The Christmas Tree Place, Berkhamsted.
Nang Phaya and her herd spared no time diving into their surprise, with the older members of the herd leading the way. The curious infant initially approached the new trees with some caution, but soon followed her family’s lead, exploring the sensations of the prickly branches under her feet and with her trunk.
The Christmas treat was also filmed as part of Channel 4’s “London Zoo at Christmas”, a family festive special following zookeepers at London and Whipsnade Zoos as they prepare for Christmas - coming soon.
Playful young calf Nang Phaya was born in August 2022 and named the Thai word for ‘queen’ after HM Queen Elizabeth II, who famously fed her mum Donna a banana during a 2017 visit to the Zoo.
Team Leader Stefan Groeneveld said: “Although only three-months-old, Nang Phaya is the boisterous, youngest female in the matriarchal family herd, and so we wanted her first Christmas experience to be fit for a queen.
“A lot of us enjoy tree-decorating as a festive tradition, but our herd of Endangered Asian elephants are thrilled with just the prickly trees themselves. The spiky branches have a texture that elephants really rubbing their thick skin against. Plus, when they’re done playing with them, the trees make a delicious snack!
“Exploring the winter wonderland gave Nang Phaya extra practice using her versatile trunk – a skill that has to be developed over time – as well opportunities to develop natural foraging and investigation skills. All these huge Christmas trees to play with are just paradise for a curious, energetic elephant calf and so all of our efforts have definitely paid off!
“It’s not just the elephants who will enjoy the festive season - with over 10,000 animals to discover, families can look forward to a magical day exploring wildlife during the Christmas holidays at Whipsnade Zoo.”
Asian elephants are classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and recent estimates suggest that as few as 7000 are left in South-East Asia. International conservation charity ZSL works in Thailand, Nepal, Cameroon and West Africa to protect elephants and help people living alongside them thrive.
Visitors to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo this Christmas will be able to see Nang Phaya with her mum Donna and the rest of the herd, alongside the conservation zoo’s 10,000 other animals.