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‘Smashing’ times at Zoo Knoxville

Carol Z. Shane, Shopper News

Zoo Knoxville has recently put two spins on the word “smashing.”

On Nov. 4, two of the nationally accredited zoo’s largest inhabitants got some spectacular playtime when African elephants Edie and Tonka were given 2000-pound pumpkins to do with as they wished.

They rolled, they probed, they explored, and eventually … they smashed.

It was all part of a collaborative effort with Dollywood ‒ which features 20,000 pounds of colossal pumpkins every year during its Fall Festival, according to the park’s public relations director Wes Ramey ‒ and the farmers who grow them.

The elephants aren’t the only fans, and the pumpkins aren’t the only things they like ‒ they’re also given squash throughout the year.

Tonka, now about 45 years old, will be spending his senior years at The Elephant Sanctuary. “Tonka, Jana and Edie are beloved and treasured, and we will always put their well-being and happiness first,” Zoo Knoxville president and CEO Lisa New said in a news release last year announcing the elephants' transfer.

“We try to have our animals participate in enrichment that gives them species-specific behaviors,” said Phil Colclough, the zoo’s director of animal care, conservation and education. “They forage, they tear stuff apart to get to the insides of things. Same thing with bears and rhinos.”

Zoo Knoxville elephant Tonka receives a giant 1,350-pound pumpkin donated by Bruce Terry in 2017.

And the giant vegetables aren’t just a hit on dry land. “It absolutely blows my mind that a big apex predator like a Cuban crocodile would enjoy a pumpkin,” said Colclough. “That shows you that they all like it.”

The Edwards family of Tazewell, Virginia, grew the pumpkins, which were used first as part of the Dollywood display. The family was thrilled that the discarded pumpkins were put to another use.

Elephant Tonka receives a giant 1,350 pound pumpkin donated to Zoo Knoxville by Bruce Terry Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017.

“We shouldn’t waste blessings,” said Priscilla Edwards. “We should spread them wherever we can!”

In other “smashing” news, Zoo Knoxville’s president and CEO, Lisa New, was recently named chair of the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s (AZA) Board of Directors. 

Lisa New, president and CEO of Zoo Knoxville, is the new chair of the board of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, with more than 230 accredited facilities nationwide.

Founded in 1924, the AZA is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of animal conservation, well-being, education, science and recreation. It is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums – a leader in species conservation, seeking to ensure a better future for all living things. 

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