10165 N McKinley Drive, Tampa, FL 33612
Payment options: Credit cards accepted
What you see: Imagine wandering into a barn that is so massive you wonder what could live there. Then you look up. Everything is up high and big because elephants have trunks and they like to play — with locks, gates, light fixtures, hoses, you name it. Nothing is safe in the Pachyderm Palace.
The first thing you see is one of the mammoth animals behind a large steel gate. You must stay at least 8 feet and a trunk’s length away from the gate. During the tour, you are close but there are always barriers, or protected contact, between guests and the elephants.
At the gate, you get to roll fruits and veggies to the elephants: apples, pears and potatoes. It’s one of two chances you have to feed the vegetarians, which consume up to 200 pounds (!) of food and 50 gallons of water each day. You’ll be amazed at their delicate touch, picking up a single grape or piece of popcorn without crushing it in their trunks.
As you walk through the health station, where the elephants are weighed, brushed and cared for, it leads you out to the habitat. There the “girls” are able to be themselves while you listen to the trainers talk about keeping them stimulated by throwing them parties or giving them different activities to do.
Did you know? Because of the nature of Asian elephants, the herd is generally all female. The elephants at Busch Gardens are all females — Tina, Simba, Carina, Karnauldi, Rosie, ages 20-43. Males are solitary.
Wow factor: The elephants are giant. You see them from a seat at the circus or from 20 feet away in the habitat at the park, and you think they are big. But during the insider tour, you’re less than 10 feet away and the animals are massive. The largest Asian elephant in the park weighs 8,300 pounds.
Another wow: Hearing Simba trumpet as the keepers gave her a sort of “drum roll” on the side gates of her cage. It was magnificent.
What’s missing: Well, true contact with the elephants. For that, you’ll need to pay nearly $200 and then you can spend about 90 minutes with the elephants and be like the trainers.
Is it worth it: You bet. For just under $20, you get to feed the elephants, see them go through their routine and hear about their habits from the keepers.
Details: $19.95 for the 45-minute tour. Ages 10 and older; no wheelchairs because of the hike you take to get up close and personal with the five female elephants in the habitat. Park admission is required.