Santa and retinue visit Edinburgh zoo

It's not every Christmas grotto where you get to see not only Santa himself, but also watch the reindeer being fed their favourite grub. But if you head along to Edinburgh Zoo any weekend in December, youngsters can have a chat with the bearded gentleman about what they'd like for Christmas. And they can also get to watch the reindeer munching carrots. No doubt doing so in readiness for the onslaught that awaits them on December 25.

One zoo animal famous for loving December is Mercedes, the polar bear who lived at Edinburgh Zoo for twenty five years. Her thick coat, stout legs and furry paws made her well-adapted to Edinburgh's Christmas season. However, those of you who are fans of Mercedes might be interested to know that she moved house in October, travelling along the A9 in an armoured convoy, accompanied by police, army and film crew escorts for the three-hour journey from Edinburgh Zoo to her new £300,000 home at the Highland Wildlife Park in Inverness-shire.

The crate containing Mercedes had to be lifted by crane onto the lorry that transported her. For two months before the journey, keepers kept the crate in Mercedes' old enclosure, so she had time to get used to it. Every time Mercedes went inside the crate, her keepers rewarded her with a snack of chicken. By the time of the actual move, Mercedes was so relaxed about wandering into the crate that her keepers had no trouble getting her ready for her big journey north.

The Highland Wildlife Park gets lots of snow in winter, so Mercedes will be able to enjoy the cold climate there, which is apparently just like her natural tundra environment around the North Pole. Zoo sources say her new enclosure is enormous, comprising four acres of grass, trees and shrubs. It even has a pond and is home to a family of rabbits.

Despite Mercedes' departure for colder climes, (like Edinburgh isn't cold enough at this time of year) Edinburgh Zoo still has lots to entertain visitors. Among its most popular attractions are the Budongo Trail, Living Links and Rainbow Landings. An updated website will help you plan a day out at the zoo and keep you up to date on what's happening. And if you're in the market for Christmas presents for friends or family living in Edinburgh, you might consider an annual zoo membership. I bought one for my family in May this year and have already had good value from several zoo trips made with it.

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