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Before You Trim Trees, Remember: One Person’s Yard Waste Is a Zoo Creature’s Treasured Treat

If you’re a committed green person who would like to recycle or re-use everything you don’t need anymore, you should definitely contact your local zoo before you have your landscaping tidied again. Many zoos accept branches of certain trees to feed animals or use as habitat for the animals in their care. This is a great way to keep yard debris out of the landfill and make a zoo creature happy at the same time.

Here’s what you should know.

Branches of leaves, fruit, and flowers are called “browse”

The term “browse” is used to describe the natural tree, shrub, and grassy growth that animals munch on throughout the day when in their natural habitats. Zoos try to mimic that type of feeding by offering animals like elephants, giraffes, and zebras branches of trees to both nibble on and play with in their enclosures.

Some zoos have entire gardens or growth plots devoted to raising specialty browse plants like eucalyptus for koalas and bamboo for pandas. But it’s difficult for most zoos to grow all of the plants that diverse animals need, so some zoos accept donations of branches cut from property-owners’ trees and shrubs.

Many common plants are delicacies to zoo animals

There are quite a few common trees and shrubs that are accepted as browse donations in zoos which offer this program. Some of these include

  • Crape myrtle
  • Japanese maple
  • Citrus tree
  • Pear tree
  • Sycamore  
  • Mimosa  
  • Acacia
  • Willow

Grape vines, photinia bushes, hackberries, and tulips are also included. Many animals, including elephants, love evergreen trees. including Fraser and Douglas firs. The elephants wave the branches around and then strip the needles from the boughs.

How browse donations work

Not all zoos accept donations of branches and yard debris. Of those which do accept donations, you must have specific plants to offer in enough quantities to make it worth their while to pick the branches up, and they usually can’t travel more than a few miles to retrieve the yard waste. It’s best to call ahead to find out whether the amount and type of branches you have will be accepted for pickup.

Even small donations may be dropped off at the zoo. Although you won’t be able to see your branches actually fed to the animals, you can rest assured they appreciate the gesture. Again, call ahead to be sure someone can accept your donation. When there are no zoos nearby, contact a local veterinary hospital, petting farm, pet store, or other exotic animal provider and ask if they can use any of your fresh cuttings.

If trees have been sprayed—even with organic pesticides—they can’t be accepted. Branches must also be freshly cut, not dried out and inedible. If there is any fungal or severe bug infestation, you should not donate branches but should instead burn them or have your tree-trimming or tree-removal service dispose of them properly for you.