NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – At the Nashville Zoo, you can now get an up-close and personal look at the zoo’s white rhinoceros as part of their Backstage Pass program.

The “Rise & Shine With Rhinos Tour” is offered on weekends at 9:30 a.m. and participants can now touch, pet, and scratch the rhinos.

“Rhinos really enjoy tactile touch or scratches. Our keepers actually train them with scratches. So, we are now able to have it where our guests can come up on our Backstage Pass Tours and touch the rhino themselves.” said Jessica Knox, Nashville Zoo Backstage Pass Tour Guide. “It’s an amazing experience.”

Up to 10 guests take a 75 minute guided tour to learn about rhino care, behavior, and conservation. The tour offers access to areas not available to the general public.

“One of the rhino keepers loves to talk about how they all have a ‘sweet spot’, kind of like a dog,” Knox said. “If you scratch the inside of the back leg they kick their back leg out, their tail curls up. Their knees actually start to buckle. And, if you scratch them long enough, they’ll roll over and lay down.”

The zoo gave the media a tour, and I had the pleasure of giving a two-ton rhino named T. C. a back scratch, while he ate the grass provided for his breakfast.

The Rise & Shine with Rhinos tours are $170 for Nashville Zoo members and $190 for non-members and include admission to the Zoo. No children under 12-years-old are permitted on the tour, and each child up to age 16 must be accompanied by an adult.

The zoo’s white rhinos are part of the Species Survival Plan, and the zoo hopes eventually they will breed.

“Unfortunately, rhino populations are on the decline in the wild due to poaching for their horn,” Knox continued, “We’re hoping to help keep the population in human care up and thriving and genetically diverse.”

The money goes to a good cause. “One hundred percent of the profits from our Backstage Pass program is donated to conservation programs across the globe, specifically for the animal you are meeting on the tour,” explained Knox. “When you come and meet and scratch a rhino here at the Nashville Zoo, you are helping us save rhinos in the wild, as well.”

Nashville Zoo offers a variety of experiences through their Backstage Pass program including encounters with giraffes, okapi, sloths, clouded leopards, and a tour of the Zoo’s Veterinary Center.

These tours are very popular and guests are encouraged to make reservations in advance by visiting this link.