The N.C. Zoological Park chose its ground carefully. For one thing, it’s about 18 miles from the dead center of the state, making it accessible to more people. Also, the zoo, on the outskirts of Asheboro, limits its zoological focus to North America and Africa, and housing the wildlife of both as naturally as possible on more than 2,000 acres – making it one of the largest zoo tracts in the country.
The state-owned attraction is going big in a different way this Saturday: With “African Giants” activities between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., the spotlight is on celebrating their elephants, rhinos and giraffes.
We’re talking huge beasts.
The African elephant is the largest of land mammals; it can bust the scales at 6 tons and reach a height of 13 feet. The zoo has a total of six, both males and females.
An adult giraffe can be roughly 18 feet tall and easily weigh 3,000 pounds. At Asheboro, you can see both Rothschild’s giraffe and the reticulated giraffe (also known as the Somali giraffe). The two have some differences in genetics and different skin patterns. The varieties can cross-breed – and there’s a hybrid here.
A rhinoceros literally weighs a ton (or more), can be 14 feet head-to-toe and have a shoulder height of 6 feet. The zoo has seven rhinos; five are out for visitors to see and two are retired, living the easy life.
The massive size of all these creatures gives them an element of protection in the wild – but these same standout dimensions and unusual looks make them attractive to human hunters.
They’re tended carefully. Maria Morgan, the zoo’s special events coordinator, says that extends to usually keeping all on a “maintenance diet.”
“In the wild, they usually eat more. Here, they don’t need to – they don’t need that extra food to store energy. They’re fed several times a day, every day, and are more fit than if they lived in the wild.”
At “African Giants,” there will be intermittent zookeepers’ talks at the animals’ locations, where you can learn more about these beasts – what they eat, what their life is like in North Carolina and in the wild. You’ll get natural history information: Why they’re so large and how their bodies have adapted to the wilds of Africa. Aspiring keepers can also learn what taking care of the animals involves.
Questions? Ask away. One that’s commonly asked, according to Morgan, is why giraffes have black tongues. (“It’s a pigmentation thing,” she said. “Their heads are very high up, and this keeps the tongues from getting sunburned.”) Another is why giraffes have horn-like growths on their heads. (Morgan: “Males and females use them for fighting when they have territorial disputes. They swing their heads at each other – and it can become quite nasty.”)
The zoo is expansive, but animals covered in “African Giants” are in close proximity. The elephants and the rhinos (who run with the kudos, water buffalo and ostriches) are in adjoining enclosures; just across the way is where the giraffes run with zebra and other ostriches.
There will be craft activities Saturday for kids at Acacia Station (the giraffe feeding deck), Watani Overlook (elephants) and Plains Overlook (rhinos). There’s also storytelling at the zoo’s African Plaza.
“African Giants” is included in regular zoo admission.
Bordsen is the Observer’s travel editor.
With the big guys
Admission to the N.C. Zoo, 4401 Zoo Parkway, Asheboro, is $15, $13 for 62 and older, $11 for ages 2-12. The zoo is 90 minutes northeast of Charlotte. Take I-85 north to N.C. 49; head northeast to U.S. 64, then U.S. 64 southeast to Asheboro. In Asheboro, take N.C. 159 south 4.5 miles; watch for signs.