Zoo creates ornaments from reindeer dung

Susie Ohley, marketing director of the Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington, Ill., holds one of the Christmas tree ornaments zoo workers made from reindeer droppings as a fund raiser for the zoo, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2008. Workers made the ornaments on their own David Proeber, The Associated Press

Susie Ohley, marketing director of the Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington, Ill., holds one of the Christmas tree ornaments zoo workers made from reindeer droppings as a fund raiser for the zoo, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2008. Workers made the ornaments on their own David Proeber, The Associated Press

By The Associated Press

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – The Christmas ornaments for sale at the Miller Park Zoo’s gift shop are partly manufactured by reindeer. Honest!

Staffers make decorations out of droppings from the zoo’s two reindeer, Ealu and Rika. The droppings are dried, then clear-coated and either painted or rolled in glitter.

Zoo marketing director Susie Ohley has named the products “magical reindeer gem ornaments,” and each comes with a label of authenticity. They cost $5 at the zoo gift shop.

The idea for the ornaments came indirectly from a story zoo director John Tobias heard about his Irish grandmother.

It seems that back in the early 1900s, his grandmother would take chocolate drops and sprinkle them around so the children in the family would think that reindeer had really visited.

That memory, and talk about stringing cranberries and popcorn, led Ohley to think of using the innocuous dry pellets in Christmas ornaments for a fundraiser.

Katie Buydos of the zoo support staff, who makes jewelry as a hobby, donated wire and beads for the project, saying, “Susie asked me to bring some creativity to the table.”

“Each one is unique; they are each a work of art,” said Ohley.

People appear surprised by the size of the droppings.

“Reindeer are so big,” said zoo maintenance worker Sheldon Williams, but their droppings are “just a big pile of small.”