Bears, tigers, other animals smash and chomp pumpkins at Grand Rapids zoo

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GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Lions, tigers, bears and pumpkins, oh my!

Now that Halloween’s over, some of Grand Rapids’ biggest and fluffiest residents got the chance to smash and chomp on giant pumpkins at John Ball Zoo Friday.

The pumpkins were donated to the zoo by Frederik Meijer Gardens, which used the giant gourds as part of its “Chrysanthemums and More” fall display. Now that Meijer Gardens is gearing up for the winter holidays, they didn’t want the pumpkins to go to waste.

After being cleaned up, the biggest pumpkins were given to the chimpanzees, bears, lions and tigers.

“It’s really fun to give them something they don’t get every day,” said Jamie Racalla, animal care supervisor at John Ball Zoo. “A lot of times, they get to do these natural enrichment things, but they love to destroy and get into trouble.”

The chimpanzees, whose ages range from 24 to 53, immediately started checking out the pumpkin in their enclosure, eventually ripping it open and helping themselves to handfuls of pumpkin.

“(The chimpanzees) get pumpkins every year, but this is the first time they’ve had one this big,” said Senior Zookeeper Bonnie Wilburn. “This one’s big enough for them to sit inside and hang out. They started eating it right away, they seem to really like it.”

Boo Boo the bear, 28, also got straight to examining the pumpkin in her habitat, standing on top of the pumpkin and testing its strength.

“It just goes toward their mental wellness,” Racalla said. “We have daily enrichment for them, but these special things are just so fun.”

Families and zoo staff alike looked on as the pumpkins met their match with claws, teeth and super strength. Amur tiger Finn grabbed his pumpkin and dragged it around like a dog with a bone.

“It really shows their strength,” said Zookeeper Paul Suplinskas. “(Finn) can pick it up with just his neck and jaws and in the wild, they might drag their prey. We like to see them keep their muscle tone.”

John Ball Zoo’s commissary supervisor Shakira Stowers said that while giant pumpkins aren’t normally on the meal list for the animals, they certainly do go through a giant amount of food. Each week, the zoo goes through at least 120 pounds of romaine lettuce, 100 pounds of sweet potatoes, 80 pounds of apples and several 40-pound cases of meat for the larger animals.

In all, Meijer Gardens delivered more than 500 pounds of pumpkins and gourds to the zoo, which also were given to goats, sheep, cows, spider monkeys, tortoises and porcupines.