Hog wild! Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens launching behind-the-scenes experiences Labor Day weekend

6 up-close encounters include penguins, warty pigs, flamingos, manatees and more

Jax Zoo (WJXT)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Have you ever wanted to pet a pig or feed a flamingo at the zoo?

A new program called “Behind the Scenes Experiences” at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is ready to make those and other animal interaction dreams come true.

Six different encounters will be available each weekend from Labor Day weekend in September through the end of October.

The Zoo said it hopes to extend the program beyond that.

One of the six behind-the-scenes experiences is the Flamingo Mingle, which will be available on Sundays. Visitors will be able to feed the Greater Flamingos their favorite snack, krill, which is like shrimp.

Flamingo Mingle (WJXT)

It is the food that helps turn the feathers of the 42 birds in the exhibit pink.

Another experience is brushing the Visayan Warty Pigs.

Crew members said the scratching is soothing for the endangered animals from the Philippines.

Derek Mock oversees the experiences and said he wants them to be educational -- as well as memorable.

“We want to foster a better understanding of the animals here at the zoo,” said Mock, who is the zoo’s interpretive engagement specialist. “[We want them to have] a passion for what we do here at the zoo and animals that we care for.”

The other experiences include touring the manatee critical care center, which will also be an option for visitors on Sundays.

On Saturdays, people can watch African elephants paint using their trunks or feed Magellanic penguins or Southern Cassowarys.

Mock said the sessions last between 45 to 60 minutes, which, he said, is enough time to change people’s perceptions.

“We want to foster a passion for wildlife in general and change the mindset around wildlife and wild places,” he said.

You can only choose to do one activity per visit and prices range between $240 to $300 with up to four people able to participate at a time.

Tickets are on sale right now and must be purchased two weeks in advance.

Tickets to the behind-the-scenes experience are separate from the general admission to the zoo.

Behind the Scenes Experiences


  • African Elephant Painting | 10 a.m. | $300
  • Southern Cassowary Encounter | 12 p.m. | $260
  • Magellanic Penguin Encounter | 3 p.m. | $280


  • Greater Flamingo Mingle | 10 a.m. | $280
  • Visayan Warty Pig Encounter | 12 p.m. | $260
  • Manatee Critical Care Center Tour | 3 p.m. | $240

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