KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Have you ever wondered what happens to the ginormous pumpkins at Dollywood after the Harvest Festival is over? This year, they were donated to Zoo Knoxville where some of the pumpkins were smashed by African elephants Tonka and Edie on Saturday morning.
Saturday morning, Zoo Knoxville visitors gathered around the elephant enclosure to watch Tonka and Edie devour the gigantic pumpkins, including one that weighed more than 2,000 pounds.
Zoo Knoxville Director of Animals, Conservation and Education Phil Colcough said the pumpkins give the zoo’s animals enrichment and gives them an opportunity to use skills they would use in the wild, even though they might never encounter a pumpkin in their native habitat.
“This gives us the rare opportunity to give a 2,000-pound pumpkin to a 15,000-pound African elephant, and where else can you do that but here, and get to see it up close and personal? We try to have our animals participate in enrichment that gives them species-specific behaviors, not that an elephant is gonna find a 2,000-pound pumpkin out in Africa, but they do forage, they do smash things. They do tear stuff apart to get the insides out of things and a pumpkin is a pretty good, pretty good way to do that.” Colcough said.
Other animals throughout the zoo have been enjoying pumpkins throughout the week, Colcough explained, including the Cuban crocodiles who enjoyed carrying and squashing the pumpkins.
The pumpkins that were smashed by Tonka and Edie, along with some of the others that were donated to Zoo Knoxville, were grown by the Edwards family in Tazewell County, Virginia. Priscilla Edwards previously explained that they grew the pumpkins after her son asked if they could after a trip to Dollywood in 2022. According to Edwards, her husband actually first said it would be neat to donate some of the pumpkins to a zoo.
“Oh, I’m real excited cause when we first started doing the giant pumpkins that was one of my husband’s comments. ‘Wouldn’t it be neat to donate these to a zoo?’ And we had a little zoo not too far from us, and we were actually going to see if that can happen,” said Edwards. “But Chris called us up and was like, ‘Hey, these are awesome. That works perfect,’ because that’s what we we like giving back to the animals and stuff like that on our farm, we don’t waste nothing, and it goes straight to the animals and it makes us feel better knowing these are going somewhere where they could play and eat.”
Dollywood spokesperson Wes Ramey said that there were approximately 12,000 regular pumpkins in the park throughout the festival.
“In terms of our colossal pumpkins, we’re looking at about 20,000 pounds of colossal pumpkin, so most of that is going to make its way to Zoo Knoxville for everybody, all the animals to play with. As big as some of these pumpkins are, I really hope that I get a chance to be there when the elephants tear into them because I can only imagine. We love going to the zoo, so I’ll have to take my kids so they get to see it too,” Ramey said.
Ramey shared that Dollywood is always looking for ways to give back to the community and the environment, and being able to give something to the animals at Zoo Knoxville was an “awesome opportunity all the way around.”