Dan stalked into the cage and picked up a small ball and ran. Baby Red clung to her mother to get a close-up view, while Bjorn eyed her mother pouncing on the new toy in an icy pool. Just your typical kids on Christmas morning, huh?

But these kids were a gorilla, an orangutan and a polar bear, respectively, for whom Christmas came early Wednesday at Hogle Zoo.Many of the zoo's larger animals were given boomer balls, special heavy-duty plastic balls, made possible through some $2,500 in donations from the public, school children and some of the zookeepers.

School children Dixie Jensen, Shannon Brewer and Bonnie Jensen, Sunset, Davis County, told zoo officials about their donation.

"We would like to buy a boomer ball for the baby cougar with this money. It is a shame that any baby be without toys on Christmas. We love our kittens very much and would like Utah's kittens to have a merry Christmas."

Arlene Goodrich and Jodee Hoellein, of the Roy area, also sent money. In her note, Goodrich said Hoellein loves hippos and recently returned from Africa. She requested that her (Hoellein's) money, go if possible toward balls for the hippos.

The animals appeared delighted.> Some of the animals, particularly the chimpanzees, gorillas and hippos, appeared a little intimidated at first by the hardened, plastic toys, but the polar bears had a ball.

Zoo Director LaMar Farnsworth said the boomer balls should improve the physical and mental health of the animals.

"Normally, everyone gets presents but the animals. But this year we are giving the animals presents. We also believe it will benefit visitors, who will be able to enjoy the animals more."

In the Great Ape Building, spectators waited excitedly as the first balls were released by zookeepers. Dan, one of the large gorillas, stalked into the display area, picked up one of the smaller balls and bolted into an adjoining area. From that point, the primates took plenty of time to inspect, lick and chew on the balls. Just as the visitors were leaving the area, one of the gorillas hurled a boomer ball at another animal.

In another building, Moe, a 2-ton-plus Nile hippo was rather blase to his larger boomer ball, tossed into a pool by keeper Marilyn Smoot.

"I have a feeling he might be a little more intimidated because he'll know something's up . . . He might go under water," said Smoot. Moe pretty well lived up to the keeper's predictions.

In still another area, workers dropped one of the larger balls into an icy pool for Chinook, a mother bear, and her cub, one-year-old Bjorn.