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April 29, 2005

Argentina Celebrates ‘Day of the Animal’

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- Tomy and Blanquita, two white tigers at the Buenos Aires zoo, bounded from their cave Friday to find an unexpected treat: children and zookeepers had presented them with a gift-wrapped box for the "Day of the Animal" filled with bones, meat and a ball.

Argentina's animal appreciation day is a 79-year-old custom that dates to some of the earliest legislation in this South American country protecting animals from hunting and abuse. On Friday, zookeepers also treated lemurs to a fruit-and-vegetable cake. Elephants, bears, monkeys and other species got their own delicacies as children looked on.

"We made the food for them to make them happy," said Brenda Herrera, one of 15 girls who helped prepared the food as part of a cooking class. The 13-year-old girl said baskets made of bread and filled with pears, grapes, corn and carrots took about two hours to make.

But it only took seconds to demolish as two black bears fought over one of the boxes. Never mind that each got his own.

The white tigers, a brother-and-sister pair, eyed several boxes, ripped apart the wrapping and gnawed at them with their teeth.

Argentines observe the "Day of the Animal" on April 29 to commemorate a crusade for animal-protection laws.

It's a day some owners pamper pets, taking them for dog shampooing or treating them to longer romps with the "dog walker" - a worker whose sole task is to walk as many as 20 dogs at a time down city streets on leashes.

"In the days before Day of the Animal, there are more purchases of toys and things for pets in general," said Arturo Andres Kohn, a veterinarian at The Animal Shop in Buenos Aires' upscale Palermo neighborhood.

At the zoo, five lemurs dined on a cake of gelatin, grapes, sliced apples, bananas and bell peppers. Their tiny mouths opened and closed rapidly as they nibbled. Meanwhile, two African elephants eagerly ripped away apples strung on palm branches along with squashes.

Maria Alejandra Zuccoli brouht her 4-year-old son, Juan, for the celebration. She said she was glad to see the animals so busy.

"When you come to visit as a tourist, in general they are sleeping," said Zuccoli. "Today you can get another image of them."

Miguel Rivolta, the zoo's chief veterinarian, said the treats were all in the normal diet of the aniamls. But he added, "today we have given them the tastiest" stuff.

He said he hoped Argentina's special day was a lesson on care and respect for animals, adding, "they are on the Earth just like us, and we have to protect them. That's the message of 'Day of the Animal.'"