What do you get a panda for his birthday? A frozen fruitsicle cake, of course. That’s just one of the treats prepped by the National Zoo’s commissary team, who often cook up species-appropriate “enrichment” for holidays and celebrations—a way to stimulate the animals by mimicking the kind of feeding they’d enjoy in the wild (and it’s pretty fun for us humans, too).
Thanksgiving Pie for Gibbons
During the holidays, keepers present siamangs Bradley and Ronnie with traditional treats. These small apes don’t eat turkey or stuffing, but when Thanksgiving arrives, they love to scarf down pumpkin pie. There’s no whipped cream here, alas: The zoo prepares a special nondairy, sugar-free version with a crust made of vegetarian primate chow.
Halloween “Candy” for Lemurs
If you think Ibiza is a party, you’ve never been to Lemur Island—the zoo’s special habitat where ring-tailed lemurs Bowie, Tom Petty, Southside Johnny, and their crew hang out. Come Halloween, they can’t keep their paws off an organic pumpkin that staffers fill with grapes, blueberries, and diced apples—all served on a bed of greens.
Valentines for Tigers
If you’re an amorous big cat, nothing says “my bloody Valentine” like a frozen pop made from horse and beef blood, along with cattle femurs for gnawing. These treats can also keep the cats cool on hot days, and is part of a nutrionally complete diet. In other words, purr-fection.
Birthday Cake for Lions
It’s a blood bath! A few years ago, the zoo’s seven lion cubs celebrated their birthdays with a bloodsicle cake in the shape of the number “1.” The massive treat weighed about 50 pounds and was fashioned from ice water, two whole cow femurs, five pounds of shaved beef, and a half-gallon of cow blood.
Beefy Birthday for Leopards
“Clouded Leopard Beef Cake” may sound like a rock band, but it’s a special treat at the zoo! Male clouded leopards Ta Moon (“Mischievous Child”) and Sa Ming (“Brave Warrior”) celebrated their first birthday with a cake made out of ice with frozen bamboo leaves inside, plus a ground beef cake topper.
A version of this story appears in the November 2022 issue of Washingtonian.