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Your downed tree can help feed the animals at Reid Park Zoo

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Posted at 8:30 AM, Aug 14, 2023

TUCSON, Ariz. — As we tend to see damage from monsoon storms this time of year, a program at the Reid Park Zoo is turning the aftermath into something positive.

At the zoo, you'll find elephants, giraffes, even meercats chowing down on thousands of pounds of plants every day.

Elephant keeper Mara Eisenbarth says a lot it is from right here in our community.

"We have the ability to work with the city of Tucson and trim at local city parks if we need to, for species of trees that are approved for elephants to eat," Eisenbarth explained. "If we don't get anything trimmed from there, we can get donations from the public. So there's a there's a large amount of trees that we need to utilize to feed these elephants."

Through the zoo's 'Browse Program,' if a tree falls in your yard, or even if you just lose some branches, as long as you haven't sprayed pesticides... you can make it an animal's next meal.

"Their favorite is Chilean mesquite," said Eisenbarth. "So there are a couple of different kinds of mesquite in Tucson and native mesquite is something that we can't accept, or anything with thorns. Chilean is the really soft, dark green looking type that doesn't have thorns and that's something that they love. Mulberry, pistache, ash, California pepper is a popular one, and that one smells really good. African sumac is a big one in Tucson. It is an invasive tree species so it's everywhere. So if you're cutting down the sumac we would love to take it the elephants love it."

You just go to Reidparkzoo.org, and under 'Get Involved,' you hit 'Donate Browse,' where you can see if you have a plant the animals can actually eat.

Then you just put in your information, upload a picture of tree, add some details about it, and submit.

If the zoo confirms it's a match, as long as you're within a half an hour drive, they'll pick it up right from your yard.

"You just have to make sure that the only thing there for us to pick up, or what you bring to us, is the only thing in your truck," Eisenbarth said. "So sometimes different things like olive, Oleander, other tree species that are toxic, end up in the branches and so we just have to dump that full load. We can't take a chance on giving our animals anything toxic."

Of course the zookeepers go through each donation to make sure there aren't any wires or other dangerous plants, but then it goes right into the animals' habitat.

And the efforts of this program might be more prevalent than you think. Even the logs you see in the elephant habitat came in through the Browse Program. A tree trimming company brought them in when they fell down in a storm.

While the program isn't new, Eisenbarth says lately it's been lagging a little.

"We would love to rely on the public a lot more than we do currently," she said. "We probably get about 20% of our browse from the public and we would love to up that to as much as possible. So it doesn't go into a landfill."

Claire Graham is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. She grew up in Tucson and graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in musical theatre. Claire spent a decade in Washington state, where she worked in journalism, met her husband and welcomed their baby boy, before moving back home. Share your story ideas and important issues with Claire by emailing claire.graham@kgun9.com or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.