Old Christmas Trees Cheer Dartmouth Zoo Elephants | WCAI

Old Christmas Trees Cheer Dartmouth Zoo Elephants

Jan 15, 2014

A truckload of old trees is bringing belated Christmas cheer to an elephant at the Buttonwood Park Zoo in Dartmouth. Her name is Ruth, and she has a long-standing - if somewhat roundabout - connection to the Outer Cape.

Andy Fingado pulled into the Buttonwood Park Zoo behind the wheel of a mid-sized green and white truck. He and several zoo workers flipped open the back doors and begin unloading the trees, which were still remarkably green and fragrant. 

Fingado is General Manager of Conwell Enterprises in Provincetown, which includes a hardware store, a Radio Shack and a lumber yard. 

“Years ago I had been visiting the zoo, and I had heard about Ruth and her life before the zoo,” said Fingado, “and I always wanted to do something nice for her, so, and when I started working for Conwell, I saw in Europe that they gave Christmas trees to elephants. and I thought, ‘What a neat idea.’ So we reached out to the community last year, and we got about 35 or 40 trees last year. And we got quite a bit more this year.”

The trees were donated by Outer Cape residents who feel a special affection for Ruth, who’s been living at the zoo since 1986. Back in 1984, an elephant named Ruth had walked down Provincetown's Commercial Street as part of one of the town's first Carnival parades. She’d been hired by Ron Robin, owner of the Mews Restaurant in Provincetown. Fingado said Robin heard about the elephant named Ruth at the Buttonwood Park Zoo, and wondered if it was just a coincidence.

“He talked to the zoo and found out that Ruth was actually the one that had walked down Commercial Street in 1984, so it’s kinda nice that Ruth, who entertained the people of Provincetown and Truro on the Outer Cape, you know, now they get to give something back to her.”

For Ruth, who’s now 55 years old, the years between that Carnival parade and her arrival at the zoo were difficult. Zoo Curator Shara Crook said Ruth started out at Benson’s Wild Animal Farm, and was eventually sold to a private owner.

“He made his way down to the Cape, he did a lot of parades, and he didn’t really take very good care of her,” Crook said. “She was confiscated, and she was at a holding facility, and he was actually able to get in and gain access to her, and took her….and was actually transporting her to, they believe, up to a farm in New Hampshire. and the trailer that she was in broke down, and the driver just walked away. And she was found by the owner of the business where the trailer was broken down. and so, from there, Southwick’s, the owner of Southwick’s, came in and transported her down to us.”

Since then, Ruth’s health has slowly improved, despite a recent setback. During the height of the January 3rd blizzard, she briefly escaped from her barn and developed frostbite on the tips of her ears. But she’s responded well to antibiotics, and zoo officials are upbeat, especially since her appetite for Christmas trees is as strong as ever. Andy Fingado said elephants don’t normally eat Christmas trees, but they like them nonetheless.

“It’s kinda like me. I’m not Mexican, but I like Mexican food. They’re herbivores, so they eat ‘em and Christmas trees have a lotta Vitamin C. they eat ‘em, they like to play with ‘em, they throw ‘em up in the air, they’ll take ‘em apart. it’s pretty neat,” said Fingado.

It's a short walk in a steady drizzle over to the elephant enclosure, where Ruth lives with another elephant, Emily. 

Ruth was inside the barn, but Emily, who was outside, slowly ambled over to the fence when Shara Crook offered one of the trees to her.

Andy Fingado leaned in close, snapping iPhone pictures as the elephant took the tree in its trunk, lifted it over its head, and started to munch away, breaking off pieces of the tree one at a time. He said that last year he delivered the trees, but didn't stick around to watch as they were given to the elephants. Having the chance to see the elephants enjoy the trees this year was a treat for Fingado.