Pachyderms pulverize pumpkins in prelude to 'Howloween'

October 24, 2012 - 4:08pm

Oregon Zoo's elephant herd is set to take part in annual Squishing of the Squash

Visitors can see some of the world's largest land animals demolish some of the area's largest pumpkins at 10:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 26, during the Oregon Zoo's annual Squishing of the Squash.

"Our elephant herd will get a 700-pound pumpkin to smash, play with, munch on and maybe even roll around in," said senior elephant keeper Shawn Finnell. "It will be interesting to see what Rose-Tu does this year. She's twenty-one months pregnant, so she could be extra hungry, or she might not be into pumpkins at all."

The zoo's most famous resident, Packy, will get a giant pumpkin of his own at 11 a.m. in the back sand yard of the zoo's Asian elephant habitat.

"Enrichment items such as these humongous pumpkins help keep the herd mentally and physically stimulated," Finnell said. "A lot of our animal enrichment takes place behind the scenes, but events like this are fun and give visitors a great opportunity to see the elephants in action."

Pumpkins for the Squishing of the Squash are provided by Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers. The event is a precursor to the zoo's annual Howloween celebration, presented by Sterling Bank, which runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 27-28 and is free with zoo admission.

Trick-or-treaters can fill their bags with goodies and learn about wildlife on a scavenger hunt through easily accessible activity stations around the zoo. In keeping with the zoo's mission, Howloween aims to be educational as well as fun: Activities are themed to teach kids about animals, their habitats and adaptations. Goody bags filled with candy and prizes will be given out for completed hunts at the zoo's exit.

As part of Green Halloween — a nationwide initiative to make Halloween healthier and more eco-friendly — some of the zoo's goody-bag treats are being provided by Stretch Island Fruits and Larabar.

Additional support for Howloween is provided by FedEx in association with the Safe Kids Coalition.Volunteers from FedEx will be at the zoo Saturday, Oct. 27, reminding children and adults to be safe and seen on Halloween. FedEx will provide reflective giveaways to increase children's visibility during evening hours and present safety tips for parents and drivers.

Throughout the weekend, visitors can watch the zoo's enrichment team provide animals with holiday-themed treats like (normal-sized) pumpkins provided by Al's Garden Center.

The Oregon Zoo is recognized worldwide for its successful breeding program for Asian elephants, which has now spanned five decades. More than 25 elephants have been born at the zoo, beginning with Packy in 1962.

Asian elephants are considered highly endangered in their range countries, threatened by habitat loss and conflict with humans. It is estimated that only around 38,000 to 51,000 remain in fragmented populations from India to Borneo. The Oregon Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, whose species survival plan for Asian elephants is striving to establish a self-sustaining population in North America.