Editor's note: This story appears in the fall 2017 issue of Sound & Country magazine. To flip through the magazine online and see more great activities, click here.
What does a three-ton African elephant like to eat for breakfast? And how does a zookeeper prepare a meal that will keep a pachyderm well-fed?
The fall programs at the Roger Williams Park Zoo will begin with an event that will not only answer these questions, but give visitors a chance to take part in an elephant feeding. Breakfast with the Elephants, which takes place on the morning of Saturday, Sept. 30, will be open to anyone over age 7.
The program will start before the zoo’s normal opening time, with visitors enjoying a breakfast of their own. They will then meet with a keeper who will explain how the elephants are cared for, what they eat, and how they are kept healthy.
Guests get an opportunity to help prepare a meal for the zoo’s three African elephants (Ginny, Kate, and Alice) and walk through the elephant yard. Some food will be buried for the elephants to find later; meals will also be placed in nets that are lifted above the ground to give the elephants easier access to it.
“Once you get into the elephant yard, you realize how tall and big everything is,” says Diane Nahabedian, director of marketing and public relations at the Roger Williams Park Zoo. “It’s really fun.”
After the food is ready and everyone has left the yard, the elephants will come in to eat their breakfast. Roger Williams Park Zoo offers a number of regular animal feedings as well, giving visitors a chance to give a meal to giraffes, harbor seals, goats, and sheep.
Not long after Breakfast with the Elephants, the zoo will open its renowned Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular. Thousands of intricately carved pumpkins will be on display starting on Oct. 5, and guests can start viewing them at sundown. The jack-o-lanterns will be out through Nov. 5.
The theme for this year’s Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular is “Travel Through Time.” The pumpkins will depict scenes from different eras, including dinosaurs, the Ice Age, ancient civilizations, the Middle Ages, and modern times.
The event is the culmination of months of hard work. Professional carvers with the production company Passion for Pumpkins visit in July and August to scope out places to locate pumpkins and begin setting up lights and audio. Starting in late September, they work to turn about 5,000 pumpkins into works of art. Pumpkins often have to be re-carved before the event concludes.
“The effort and creativity that goes into carving and getting the show up and running is at least as exciting as when you finally see it, at least from my vantage point,” Nahabedian says.
The display will be open 6 to 11 p.m. from Monday to Thursday, with the last admission granted at 10:30 p.m. The “prime nights” of Friday through Sunday will begin admitting guests at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are sold exclusively online, with discounts for zoo members and weekday admission.
After a successful introduction last year, Roger Williams Park Zoo will again offer timed ticketing. Visitors choose when they will arrive at the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular and are admitted at that time.
“In the past, people were waiting for a couple of hours,” says Nahabedian. “Now there’s almost no wait time.”
During the last weekend of October, the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular coincides with Spooky Zoo. This event, running from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Oct. 28 and 29, takes children trick-or-treating along a “Treat Trail.” Several other activities are scheduled throughout the weekend, including costumed entertainers like zoo mascot Roger the Red Panda; Animal Encounters, where keepers offer an up-close look at some of the zoo’s creatures; and feedings that include leftover pumpkins from the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular.
On Dec. 2, a winter festival will take place at the zoo’s Carousel Village. This event will include a light festival, a visit from Santa Claus, and opportunities to ride the horses of the old-fashioned carousel.
The Carousel Village is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Labor Day, then noon to 4 p.m. through Halloween. For the last two months of the year, it is open on weekends from noon to 4 p.m. The nearby Hasbro Boundless Playground – at which children with physical disabilities can enjoy more than 70% of the activities – is open year-round unless there is an unsafe amount of snow or ice.
Roger Williams Park Zoo remains open during the fall and winter, closing only for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas. Starting on Oct. 1 and running through March 30, zoo hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Nahabedian says that the zoo is less crowded between September and May, but that there is still plenty to see. Animals from warmer climates may be more reticent to come out during the colder months, but others are quite happy when the temperature drops. It’s the perfect season to see snow leopards, moon bears, and red pandas out and about.
“It’s a great outing for grandparents who are watching the kids, or if you just have a day off during the week,” says Nahabedian.
Starting in the fall, Roger Williams Park Zoo will also resumes its school programs. The “Zoomobile” visits schools in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island to lead science programs.
The zoo offers one-day “Zoocation Day Camps” for children ages 4 through 13. These programs are designed to provide an outing for kids whose parents have to work on school holidays that aren’t typically granted in the workplace, including Columbus Day, Veterans Day, and Rosh Hashana. The camps offer a full day of crafts activities as well as a zoo tour, Animal Encounters, and animal feedings.
Roger Williams Park Zoo recently added a number of new animals including alligators, Komodo dragons, Kunekune pigs, and Watsui cattle. A rainforest exhibit is slated to open in 2018.
Zoo events typically take place rain or shine. Any cancellations or other updates are posted on the Facebook page at facebook.com/RWPZoo.
Roger Williams Park Zoo is located at 1000 Elmwood Ave. in Providence. For more information, visit rwpzoo.org or call 401-785-3510.