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Jun 22, 2013
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Tampa, FL
www.wdwtourcompany.com
Note - This experience is no longer listed as available on the park's website.




The Elephant Keeper Experience at Busch Gardens Tampa allows guests an opportunity to get hands-on experience in the care of the Asian elephants at the park. The 90 minute private group experience costs $199 + tax for up to six individuals in your party. Pass member discount of 10% does apply ($179.10 + tax for up to six people as a group). Obviously, the larger your party up to the maximum of six, the better per person cost it comes out to.

From the park's website:

Make a personal connection with one of the most iconic of all jungle animals in our Elephant Keeper Experience. Find out how great it feels to enrich the lives of these magnificent animals as well as the lives of other protected species, through our extensive care and training practices. Spend some time making a difference in the lives of very special animals.

Things to know before you go:
This is a 90-minute private experience
You and six friends can participate
Tour our facilities to learn about caring for elephants
Help prepare treats and carry out other elephant duties

Reservations must be made 24 hours in advance. Each reservation slot reserved can hold up to 6 people. Please call 1-888-800-5447 for more details or to reserve. Reservations can also be made prior to your visit at the Up-Close Adventure Center located in Busch Gardens.

Please pick up your tickets no later than one hour before your tour time at the Up Close Adventure Center as soon as you enter the park. You will receive tickets and a map with instructions on when/where to check in for your tour.

And the experience's restrictions/disclaimers:

Guests must be 10 years of age to participate. Due to the nature of this experience, wheelchairs cannot be accommodated at this time Participants must be able to lift 15 pounds. Sturdy footwear is required. Program is subject to availability. Prices are subject to change without notice. Prices listed is for up to 6 people and do not include tax. Must be at least 10 years of age and 52 inches tall to participate. All guests under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult. Participants must be able to climb a flight of stairs, follow instructions and lift 15 lbs. Animal interactions and tour components may vary. Park admission is not included and is required.

Advanced reservations must be made before day of visit. Tours must be cancelled a minimum of 48 hours in advance or total payment is forfeited. Tours are non-refundable if guests miss their tour time. If you have any questions or need to adjust your reservation please call the Contact Center at 1-888-800-5447.

For more information, or to make reservations, visit the park's website.
 
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Nicole

Administrator
Jul 22, 2013
11,027
29,235
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Arlington, VA
My husband and I have done this twice in the past few months: we took my parents for Mothers Day and my daughter and her friend for her birthday. We think this is an amazing experience.

As a bit of background, we picked the Elephant Keeper experience for my mother initially, because the Tiger/Orangutan experience wasn't available. Oddly enough, we ended up liking this one much more, which is why we took our daughter, as well. The keeper who (primarily) gave us the "tour" recognized us the second time. I'm not sure if that is the reason, but our two visits were very different. She, by the way, is awesome.

Right now Busch Gardens has a herd of five female elephants. Four of them are in their 40s and Karnaudi is in her 20s. Karnaudi is Carina's daughter.

For both tours we started in the elephants barn. The keeper told us that the concrete is hard on the elephant's feet, so they spend most of their time outside in the habitat. The first time, we got to watch the elephants come inside, the second we walked out to the habitat, to watch the keepers coax them in.

The keeper explained the relatively new approach BGT is taking to training their elephants. Fairly recently (within the last 10 years) they switched over to 100% positive reinforcement. They no longer try to establish themselves as the dominant members of the herd. Now humans only interact with the elephants to provide food, games, and medical care. (As the daughter of a behaviorist, I ask, "what took so long?")

Inside the barn, we got to interact with the elephants through the cages and from a safe distance. Both times we fed them. The first visit our elephant (I wish I could remember which one) didn't feel like eating yams, and kept throwing them on the floor. It was hilarious. The second time we also played with Karnaudi, using a large roll of paper towels. Then we got our own private water "ride;" one of the elephants sprayed us with water. We got completely soaked.

Next they gave us keys (for safety reasons) and took us out into the exhibit, while the elephants spent some time indoors with water hoses.

Both times we got to set the habitat up to stimulate and entertain the elephants. They had tons of vegetables and fruit, which we stuffed into giant elephant toys (like Kongs), tires, trees, bushes, etc. The goal was to hide the food, so that the elephants would have to find it and figure out how to get to it. The second trip, we also sprinkled Skittles along the rocks in the front of the exhibit for them to find and eat.

Finally, we moved to the area between the exhibit and the normal path outside the habitat and watched the elephants come outside and play with/destroy the toys we had arranged for them.

The keepers were really knowledgeable and clearly loved the elephants. The elephants, themselves, seem to enjoy interacting with us.

My father who hates zoos (he doesn't like to see the animals in cages) loved the experience. He actually complained that BGW doesn't have elephants.

My daughter and her friend didn't really care one way or another about elephants before the experience. Now they are completely obsessed.

Overall, I highly recommend doing this, if you can. We got the Platinum discount, which made the cost slightly more bearable. In addition, it is a flat rate for up to six people, and it is a private tour. So, for us at least, it was easily worth the price.

Pictures below.

 

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Nicole

Administrator
Jul 22, 2013
11,027
29,235
260
Arlington, VA
The keys were for the elephant enclosure, so none of us could get locked in, if there was some kind of emergency. Never quite knew if that included stampeding elephants?
 
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Aug 23, 2013
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Arlington
The keys were to make sure none of us were left inside the closure. The keys were to pad locks that were locked on the switch which would allow the elephants to enter the same spaces we were arranging all the enrichment. Each person had a key and pad lock. So everyone had to return and unlock the pad lock before the elephants were allowed to be released into the space we were setting up in.
 
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