NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Monkey screeches, meerkat squeaks, and children’s laughter are just some of the sounds that fill the Nashville Zoo. But, those sounds fade into the background when tourists take part in the “This is How We Zoo” tour.
“I love to joke that most people when they think of a zookeeper, they think, ‘oh, you like to scoop poop and feed animals.’ Well, that is a part of the job, but there’s a whole lot more going on behind the scenes,” says Jessica Knox, Backstage Pass tour guide.
News 2 experiences the tour first-hand.
Knox continues while driving, “I also love to talk about how not all the animals here at the zoo are on exhibit, which also shocks a lot of people.”
More than half of the zoo’s animals live out of the public eye.
“Then over here, we have some more animals behind the scenes for breeding,” she points to a row of undescriptive shelters.
Nashville Zoo has the largest collection of giant anteaters in North America. The ten creatures live exclusively behind the scenes and can only be seen as the shuttle drives by their shelter.
“They are very, very fluffy. We are actually number one in research, breeding, nutrition, and training in giant anteaters,” says Knox. “We are currently working with the AZA [Association of Zoos & Aquariums] to create the care manual. So, we are helping write the book on how you take care of giant anteaters.”
Tamandaus, clouded leopards, and caracals are just some of the other animals that live behind the scenes for breeding as well.
Knox says, “We actually have some caracal kittens that are currently in our nursery. We had another set of three that were born after the first ones were born, but we didn’t put any sort of [press] release on it because all three of them were suppose to be sent out to other facilities pretty quickly.”
Two of the caracal kittens were sent to other zoos while the third remains, “To help that last one acclimate with the others, we just put them all together.”
As the shuttle continues forward some unexpected sites are revealed.
Knox gestures toward a field with interesting looking equipment exposed, “Right now, it’s partly storage from our Zoolumination Festival that we had two years ago. We are very excited that we will hopefully be able to have that event next year.”
Now to the highlight of the tour, meeting the okapi and the tower of giraffe.
“This is Kwasi. He is a an eight-year-old male Okapi, who lives behind the scenes here at the Nashville Zoo,” Knox introduces a strange looking creature with big ears, a brown velvet-like coat, with brown and white stripes on its legs.
Knox says okapi prefer to be alone, and while many think they are related to zebras because of the stripes, they’re not.
“Okapi are actually the only other animal on the planet related to the giraffe,” says Knox.
The next stop on the tour brings guests to the Masai giraffe. Nashville Zoo houses four of them, all female.
“The one currently eating some treats from us is Ms. Nasha. She is our oldest female here at the zoo. She just turned 7 on April 28. She was born at the Cincinnati Zoo,” Knox explains. Three younger females were welcomed to the Zoo earlier this year.
Guests have the chance to interact with the okapi and giraffe in addition to getting a tour of their barns where they take shelter.
With the backstage pass program 100% of the profit goes directly to conservation efforts for the animals on the tour. Even taking a picture of the animals helps save the endangered species.
“I always love to talk about how we can’t save a species, if we don’t know they exist or that they’re endangered.” Knox adds, “By people coming to meet them up close, and learn about them, and posting and sharing their pictures on social media, it catches people’s interest.”
“This is How We Zoo” tour lasts about 75 minutes and costs $90 for non-members.
News 2 has partnered with Nashville Zoo to bring you weekly segments of Zoopalooza. You can watch them on News 2 on Good Morning Nashville on Saturday and right here on WKRN.com.