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Zoo trainers join holiday reindeer games

When it comes to performing, Ivy is a natural.

When it comes to performing, Ivy is a natural.

As children stand around the weekend reindeer exhibit at Plant World on Eglinton Avenue West, their heads peering over the white fence, the 12-year-old reindeer stands.

Ivy nears the fence and tilts her head so her antlers almost graze the children’s outreached hands. Her offspring, Kristen, follows closely behind.

Some of the kids squeal. Others tug at their parent’s sleeve, asking, “Is that really one of Santa’s reindeer?”

Stacey Baker stands nearby, holding a rope connected to Ivy’s halter. Come the holiday season, Baker becomes a reindeer wrangler.

The Bowmanville Zoo keeper loads the animals into a horse trailer and chauffeurs them to everything from a public school assembly to a tree-lighting ceremony.

With animals as good-natured as Ivy, her job is more fun than it is difficult: “Ivy’s very happy in her surroundings right now,” Baker said. “She really makes it easy.”

The zoo acquired Ivy in the early 2000s and trained her for the Christmas movie, Blizzard.

Reindeer are domesticated animals; the wild equivalent is the caribou. Training consists of strapping on a halter and walking with the animal. Handlers spend hours a week with each reindeer and, over time, a relationship is formed.

 
 
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