Enriching elephants' lives

We invite you to learn more about Tembo Trail and its new era at the Toledo Zoo.

We care deeply for elephants here at the Toledo Zoo and around the world. That’s why we take such good care of them.

Our elephants have a very high quality of life, with physical and psychological needs consistently met through excellent nutrition and dietary variety; a daily exercise regimen; outstanding animal husbandry; superb veterinary care; physical changes and additions to their exhibit; and novel stimuli and behavioral enrichment.

This all comes together in Tembo Trail, which was designed around the belief that, in addition to the animals having their needs met, they should have choices about how they spend their time.


One of the first things you may notice outdoors is that the exhibit is not level. This was intentional. The slopes and ridges offer a good “physical fitness program” for our elephants, encouraging them to move, stretch and explore.

All through the outdoor yards, deep sand provides a soft but firm foundation for the elephants’ joints and feet. This surface invites them to move, so they stay fit and healthy. Sand is also important for the elephants’ dust-bathing, a frequent natural behavior. The Zoo utilizes the sand for another important activity: enrichment.  Zookeepers bury food in the sand mounds, and the elephants use their trunks, tusks and feet to dig into the mounds and uncover the food. 

Enrichment walls make use of elephants’ agile trunks and natural intelligence to find food. When an elephant figures out how to reach food (which may be up, down, sideways or all three), he or she gets a reward -- a healthy treat.  One of the clever designs of this exhibit is its flexibility; keepers can change the enrichment options often. This is good for animals as intelligent as elephants.

Enrichment trees are the tall simulated trees in the exhibit. They’re more than decoration; they provide shade and a place to hang enrichment items. Just as an elephant reaches with its trunk to eat leaves from a real tree, it reaches for the food contained in nets, barrels or tires.

Elevated feeders and waters offer incentives for our elephants to use their whole bodies to find food – from their supple trunks to their powerful muscles. With more than 25 feeders indoors and out, our elephants are encouraged to reach and use their “smarts” to locate things to eat. 


The indoor quarters feature three elephant “bedrooms” (including a training area and bathing area), along with a heated “porch” which creates a multi-season environment. The whole structure makes use of extensive natural daylighting. An indoor sand stall offers a comfortable surface, while indoor sand mounds mimic the outdoor mounds (which “little” Lucas seems to particularly enjoy – check out the YouTube video!). A portion of the floor is heated to provide a warm, beneficial environment during colder weather.

To learn more about Tembo Trail, click here.

Banner photo, top of page: Kandace York.


For more information about any of the Zoo’s programs or services, please call 419.385.5721 or visit toledozoo.org!

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