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Chimpanzees get into the Christmas spirit
By JENNIFER LEBOVICH

Miami Herald
December 25, 2007

When it comes to opening presents, Ben -- like most 5 ½-year-olds -- was an animal.

He grabbed the box in his mouth, tore at the blue paper, and did a flip off a concrete tree inside the enclosure.

Kira Brisotti, 9, can relate: ''Sometimes you're so excited to get the gifts and tear them open and grab every gift that's yours,'' she said. Kristen was at Metrozoo Monday and saw the chimpanzees get their holiday presents.

Moments earlier, two zookeeper elves had arrived in Santa's sleigh and scattered seven boxes -- one for each chimp -- around their habitat.

Inside each box: T-shirts, peanuts, apples, bananas, ice pops, Santa hats, raisins and popcorn.

The chimps released a series of high pitched pant-hoots in excitement. ''That's Merry Christmas in chimp,'' said Ron Magill, communications director for Metrozoo.

The three dominant males -- Bocco, Niger and Hondo -- ran out quickly, snatching up the first boxes. A smile spread across Samantha's face as she devoured an orange ice pop. Female chimps Bubbles and Binti were also on the gift list.

And Ben, the baby, draped the black T-shirt over himself and bounded into a hammock. He came back to the box and dove in face-first to get at popcorn on the bottom. Then Ben had at it with a Santa hat, pulling the red triangle down over his eyes.

As part of their daily enrichment, the animals get a treat to eat or play with. But for the holiday, they get an extra dose.

''We have to control their weight and diet, but once a year we can give them special treats,'' said Crystal LeMaster, a primate keeper. ``It's just like us.''

The zoo has been delivering special gifts to many of the animals -- from red river hogs to Indian rhinoceroses to the Himalayan black bear -- for the holidays. Tuesday, the gorillas will receive their Christmas treats.
 

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