The Nashville Zoo Backstage Pass Tour is an unforgettable experience for kids (and adults) to learn about amazing animals as well as conservation.
Nashville Zoo’s unique animal education opportunity for kids and families is the Backstage Pass program. Taking place the first Saturday of each month, the zoo offers the experience for ages 5 and older at one of three animal barns — elephants, giraffes and anteaters (the particular animal barn rotates monthly).
We recently enjoyed the elephant experience, and it’s a remarkable hour-and-a-half encounter your kids won’t forget. A couple of docents start the tour in the Croft Center sharing info on the zoo’s African elephants — Juno, Rosie, Hardari and Sukari (Juno’s currently at the National Elephant Center in Florida, and the other three will be joining her there soon where they’ll reside temporarily while Nashville Zoo builds a brand new elephant habitat that will include a forthcoming breeding program).
You’ll learn about their size, weight, age and personalities. Kids will love learning about the elephant’s multipurpose trunk. Did you know it’s strong enough to pick up a 1,000-pound log, yet gentle and precise enough to pluck a single blade of grass from the ground? During the talk at the Croft Center, the docents pass around a couple of “bio-facts” (artifacts belonging to animals) to feel — a piece of elephant tusk and elephant hide. Some of the other interesting facts we learned about elephants is that they weigh between 200 – 350 pounds at birth (their gestation period is 22 months), and their care is always left to the females. In fact, a female elephant will “mother” an orphaned baby elephant when necessary. One of the most fascinating things brought to our attention is how elephants actually walk silently given the physicality of their toes. Here are some fun tidbits we learned about each of the three elephants currently at Nashville Zoo:
Hadari was born in 1892 in South Africa and came to Nashville Zoo from Florida. She’s 8 feet 9 inches and weighs 9,000 pounds. She’s smart, tends to be bossy and is always looking for something to do.
Sukari was born in 1984 and came to Nashville from a Virginia zoo. She’s 8 feet 10 inches and weighs 10,500 pounds. Prior to coming to Nashville, “Suki” lived alone for 16 years and at times appears self-centered and has temper tantrums. She has a good nature, though, and gets along with others, although she likes to be first. She loves playing with balls and tires.
Rosie is the eldest of the zoo’s elephants. She was born in 1969 and is 8 feet 8 inches weighing 8,000 pounds. She’s the head of the herd.
Next up is a walk to the elephant barn, where these giant, yet gentle, creatures spend the night. Here, one of the keepers talks about elephant care, eating habits, daily routines, sleep habits and conservation of this endangered species. A sad fact is knowing that 96 elephants are killed in the wild every day by poachers.
The elephants eat 150 pounds of food each per day consisting of hay, tree branches, grain, fruits and veggies. Their keepers start the day at 7 a.m. with cleaning the barn and bathing the elephants to remove dead skin. They also take care of the elephants’ feet and nails along with doing training and enrichment routines to stimulate the creatures.
The most memorable part of the tour comes at the end with an up close encounter at the back of the outdoor habitat. There, we got to meet Suki and give her a sweet potato treat. Sukari eagerly extends her trunk to grab your outstretched goodie — the end of her trunk feels like a wet suction cup! Don’t forget your camera! While there, the keeper will happily snap a pic of you with the elephant posing behind you.
The next elephant barn experience is Saturday, July 4 from 9:30 – 11 a.m., and advance registration’s required (do it quickly, as it WILL sell out). Admission is $35 members, $60 non-members. Call 615-833-1534 or visit nashvillezoo.org.