In 2005, the Zoo opened its largest animal exhibit in 25 years. “Elephant Encounter” brings a part of the Serengeti to Salt Lake City in the re-creation of an African plain featuring three African elephants and two white rhinoceros.
Elephant Encounter provides a stimulating, updated environment for the elephants and rhinoceros by enhancing and increasing the habitats, activities and surrounding areas. This creates the opportunity for more natural behaviors, which gives the animals physical and mental stimulation.
Elephant Encounter provides wonderful viewing areas for guests, where they can see the animals at rest and play, and they can participate in educational lectures and demonstrations. The new exhibit also provides a safer working environment for the animal care staff.
Elephant Encounter features four outdoor habitats as well as the African Lodge. Guests first encounter a naturalistic habitat on the east end of the exhibit that features a swimming channel, which holds 110,000 gallons of water. It is 10 feet 6 inches deep with enough room for an elephant to completely submerge and swim from one end to other.
Guests can then enter the African Lodge, a 2,600 square foot open-air African structure, constructed of wood and thatch materials, which overlooks the Working Yard. The lodge helps bring an emotional connection between guests and the elephants and rhinos. The African Lodge features hands-on elephant and rhino items, including an elephant skull, a femur bone of an elephant, and the hide and horn of a rhino.
From the African Lodge guests can see the Working Yard where animal husbandry procedures are done, allowing the public a chance to see the care elephants have in a zoo setting.
Walking further down, guests can get a nose-to-nose view of the elephants and rhinos in the West Habitat. When you enter The Kopje (co-pea), which resembles the small hills that rise from the African veld, you can observe the animals through the safety of two-inch thick specially made windows. A feeding area and watering hole are near the Kopje to attract the animals over for a better view.
A smaller lodge on the edge of the West Habitat gives guests another vantage point to see the animals, as well as additional educational activities. Several guests can pile on the “Elephant Scale” and see if they collectively weigh as much as a baby elephant, a newborn rhino, or as much as an elephant can eat in a week.
Families will have a great photo opportunity when they stand next to the 13-foot tall elephant sculpture that greets them as they enter Elephant Encounter. This work of art, which looks like a soapstone carving of an elephant, makes noise and can even use its trunk to “spray” guests. Around the sculpture are special elephant footprints. The trail of footprints are set to trigger various elephant sounds when guests step on the them.
In addition, guests can learn how high an elephant can reach, how elephants like water or about the reproduction cycle of an elephant. If they are daring, they can also check out the elephant “smell” display in the Kopje Rock.