How to Build a Fake Tree for an Animal Enclosure

A photo of a raccoon enclosure that says "how to make a fake tree for an animal enclosure" over it in white text

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When it comes to designing animal enclosures, the time and effort put into it isn’t just for us humans–it is for the animals too! Wether you run a rehab or a sanctuary or are just keeping an exotic pet, well-designed enclosures are essential for allowing animals to live their best lives. If you are anything like me, you may have found yourselves wondering how zoos build fake trees for decoration and enrichment in their enclosures. Well, after lots of research and hands-on training, I finally have an answer–it’s mostly wire and concrete! For the past few months I have been working on building a large, animal-safe fake tree for my pet raccoon enclosure, and now I have a tutorial for how you can build one too.

This tree was designed and built with pet raccoons in mind, but it would also work well for other small animals that climb such as opossums and gray foxes! 

a photo of two pet raccoons in a diy fake tree in their raccoon enclosure

What You Need To Build A Fake Tree

Please note that quantities of materials will very greatly depending on the size and shape of what you are building. Before purchasing anything, read through the entire tutorial and use your best judgement.

  • Plywood 
  • 2x2s 
  • Exterior Screws 
  • 10 Gauge Galvanized Wire 
  • Zip Ties 
  • Hog Rings 
  • ½ inch 16 Gauge Welded Wire Mesh
  • 1/4th inch 23 gauge Welded Wire Mesh
  • Foam Pipe Insulation 
  • Portland Cement 
  • ½ inch shredded fiberglass 
  • Concrete Polymer Fluid (I used the one from SBC)
  • Concrete Clay
  • Latex Gloves
  • Yellow Rubber Gloves 
  • Concrete Stain 
  • Acrylic Paint 
  • Wood Stain
  • Concrete sealant 
  • Concrete sealant spray 
  • Dropcloth
  • 40 grit Sanding pads
  • Staples for Stapler gun
  • Drill 
  • Saw
  • Hog Ring Pliers
  • Heavy Duty Wire Cutters
  • Scissors 
  • Stapler Gun
  • Handheld electric sander 
  • Rasps 
  • Corner sanding block 
  • Paint brushes
  • Paint roller 
  • 5 gallon buckets 
  • Cement mixing attachment for drill 

I am not joking around when I say you need to use a fiberglass respirator and safety goggles. These are a MUST

Step 1: Design Your Tree

The first thing you need to do before you get started is decide what you want your fake tree to look like. Get a pen and paper or a tablet if you have one and start sketching. I would recommend doing a few sketches, just to see what you like.

You also need to take into account how you are going to clean your tree, because you are going to be building something for animals. With this in mind, it is important to always make sure you are able to actually get into the structure to clean it.

When designing your tree, you are essentially going to want to make some kind of wooden structure and then build an actual sculpture around it. Prioritize the structure first, and then focus on the actual design. I found that building a half-circle bookshelf type structure would be easiest for me, that way I only had to make half of a tree. You don’t even have to make a tree, though, you can make anything you want. Just make sure you will be able to get in there to sand and clean it all. 

A pencil design of a tree sculpture for a raccoon enclosure
A quick hand drawn sketch of my tree design
A digital rendition of my plan. I didn't end up needing those extra support beams, but you get the idea.

Step 2: Build Your Base Structure

Depending on what you are creating, your base structure may look different. For simplicity’s sake, I am just going to go over how I made my own. I had two pieces of plywood cut and then had my dad screw them into the corner with exterior screws (I work with soft materials, ok? I am not a woodworker. Please don’t ask me to deal with wood.) 

a photo of a man drilling a plywood board into a wall.
A photo of two plywood boards screwed into a wall


Then I measured the corner and drew the shape for the piece I needed using a measuring tape and a pencil on a wooden board. Literally the same way I would do it if I were sewing a circle skirt. Then, I had my dad cut out the pieces. 

We took some 2x2s, cut them down, and screwed them into the plywood to make shelf bases. We put the wooden pizza slices on top of them and screwed those down. 

A photo of a wooden base for a prop tree for a raccoon enclosure
A photo of a wooden base for a prop tree for a raccoon enclosure

Step 3: Stain The Wood

Use waterproof wood stain and sealant in a color of your choosing. Remember, this is for raccoons, you are gonna want to seal it. 

Step 4: Install The Wire Rods

You’re gonna want to take your 10 gauge wire and cut several floor to ceiling pieces. You are also going to want to cut several pieces to go around the tree horizontally.

Drill holes in the ceiling and floor where you want your floor to ceiling wire (but do not go all the way through the floor or the ceiling. Do the same in the walls where you want the horizontal wire. 

Put the wire in and use zip ties to connect them. Use your staple gun to staple the rods to the side of the plywood shelves.

If you need to, find the places you are going to want your entrances and cut the wire away. But I’d just recommend not making the entrances  where the wire is in the first place. 

A photo showing the construction of a large prop tree for an animal enclosure
This image shows multiple steps at once: Steps 3, 4, and 5.

Step 5: Shape the wire mesh around your rods

Use your wire cutters to start cutting out sections of the 16 gauge wire mesh the horizontal length of whatever structure you are building. Start at the bottom and use hog rings to connect them to the wire rods. Work upwards, placing and shaping more sections of the wire mesh–continue to use hog rings to connect them to the wire rods as well as to each other. Use the staple gun to staple the wire to the floor and walls. 

A photo showing the construction of a large prop tree for a zoo animal enclosure
Steps 5 and 6

Step 6: Make your entrances to the climbing structure.

Mark where you want to make your entrances on the wire with tape or something–or just wing it like I did–and then use your wire cutters to cut them out. Use foam pipe insulation to wrap around the raw edges of the wire like the photo below. 

Step 7: Use the 23 Gauge Wire Mesh To Detail

This is the part where you are actually going to start sculpting with the wire. Use the thinner wire to cut strips, bending them in semi-circles or tubes to create offshoots and branches. Use hog-rings to connect them to the thicker wire. 

A photo showing the wire construction of a prop tree for an animal enclosure

Step 8: Mix Up Your Cement


Now it is time to create your cement mixer. For this part, you are going to need your bucket, Portland cement, concrete polymer fluid, fiberglass, and water.

The concrete polymer fluid and fiberglass will make sure that your structure is strong and not brittle or easy to crack. 


This is going to be the hardest part because I do not have exact ratios I can give you, more so “mix what you want until you feel it is right.” I started with about a gallon of cement, a gallon of polymer fluid, 1/8th cup of shredded fiberglass, and then added water until I eventually got it right. It took a lot of finagling though, and I always ended up adding more Portland cement. Eventually you will get it, though. Probably. 


Step 9: Pack the Mixture Onto The Wire

I tried to use a trowel, but it didn’t work, so I moved to packing it on with my hands. If you go this route like I did, make sure you wear two layers of gloves. Wear some latex gloves, and then over them where some lined rubber gloves. Don’t press too hard or it will fall through the mesh. 

Also, you’re gonna want to lay down a plastic drop cloth for this part, and maybe tape one to the walls too. I didn’t and regret it. But it is what it is, I suppose. 

Step 10: Sculpt

Let the mixture on the tree dry for about an hour and then start sculpting. I used my fingers to scrape down the concrete mix in order to make the bark. If you have clay tools, you can use these as well, but I found my fingers worked just fine. 

Let it dry for a few days.

A photo of a prop tree in an animal enclosure that is being covered in a cement mixture
A photo of a prop tree in an animal enclosure that is being covered in a cement mixture

Step 11: Fill In The Holes

If there are any holes in your tree, mix up some concrete clay and fill them. Concrete clay is also good for adding more details. I used it to make a knot in the tree as well as to carve my raccoons initials onto the tree. 

This is the kind of concrete clay I used

Let that dry for a few days.

Step 12: Sand, Sand, Sand!


and then grab your rasp to first break off any kind of weird chunks hanging off the bark. Then, put some 40 grit sand paper on your palm sander and sand and sand and sand until you can’t sand any more. And then sand some more. Remember, we are making this safe for living animals, and fiberglass is a nightmare. I went through about 40 sanding pads. Sand inside and outside the tree. You can sand over any exposed mesh on the inside, it’s fine. Then, grab your angled sanding block and get in the crevices of the bark really, really well. You will probably go through 15-20 sanding blocks. You can also fold up super low grit floor sanding pads and use them to get in between the bark. 

Step 13: Paint the Concrete

You can have concrete stain mixed into any color you can dream of. I’m painting a simple tree, so I just got brown. Paint your tree with the stain and, while it is still a little wet, you can grab acrylic paint and paint highlights and lowlights if you want. 


Let that dry. 

A photo of a fake tree in a raccoon enclosure being painted
A photo of a fake tree in a raccoon enclosure being painted

Step 14: Seal the Concrete

The last step of the fake tree construction is to waterproof and seal the concrete. Just use a paintbrush and brush it on. For the inside of the tree, I decided to use spray can sealant because I didn’t care that it had a “wet look” and frankly my back was hurting and I wanted to be done with it. Just make sure you open a window and wear a paint respirator!

Step 15: Make Sure It Is Safe

Now that your fake tree is done, you need to make sure it is safe. Again, this is for live animals, please make sure there are no fumes in the room. Also, go ahead and run your hands over everything to check for any fiberglass or sharp exposed wire points. Exposed wire mesh like you would find in an enclosure is fine, but pointy bits are not. 

Step 16: Add Raccoons (or Other Animals)


A photo of a pet raccoon in its enclosure on top of a large fake tree

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