KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — We've all petted a dog, been hissed at by a cat, and maybe even seen a small bunny scurry across the road.
But how many people can say they've fed and even touched a giant tortoise?
You can say that if you take a trip to Zoo Knoxville.
The zoo has all kinds of great animals to look at, but you can now get up close and personal with a select few very good girls and boys.
FEED A GIRAFFE
One of the most popular experiences at the zoo centers around Jumbe the giraffe, one of four giraffes who call this habitat home.
For $5, you can feed 17-foot-tall Jumbe a few leaves right at eye level at the Williams Family Giraffe Experience.
Jumbe eats about 80 pounds of leaves a day, so he appreciates the help from visitors feeding him.
Right now, Jumbe is the only giraffe you can feed, but his young son, J.J., is already showing interest in getting a few snacks. He just needs to grow a few more feet first to reach the feeding platform.
"As giraffes are starting to disappear off the face of the earth, it's a great opportunity to say, 'Hey, look at this pretty cool experience,'" said Adam Patterson, Lead Keeper over Wild Encounters. "And now, here's how we can help."
You can feed Jumbe every day from 11 a.m. to noon, and again from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
FEED AND PET A TORTOISE
The Tortoise Trail is the newest animal encounter experience at Zoo Knoxville, and arguably the most unique.
For $5, you can step inside the outdoor enclosure that holds three Aldabra giant tortoises and several smaller Madagascar radiated tortoises.
Once inside, you can feed them leaves, pet their heads and shells, and use a scrub brush to give them a little massage.
If you hit the right spot, you may even get a little booty wiggle from one of the big tortoises.
Patterson said the zookeepers use this experience to educate people on how the zoo is working to help species like the radiated tortoises, which are critically endangered.
"People are going to want to try and save and care about the things that they love. So being able to offer this experience gives people this opportunity to make a greater connection with these animals," said Patterson.
All the tortoises are used to people, and friendly with kids and adults of all sizes and ages.
You can find the tortoises in the East Zoo above Kids Cove, and feed them on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
FEED AND HOLD A BIRD
Also new in 2021, step right into the Budgie Landing Aviary in Kids Cove and give yourself to the birds.
Grab a popsicle stick coated in birdseed for $1 per stick, and in a matter of minutes, you'll have a bird on your hand, your arm, maybe even your head.
The budgies and cockatiels in this exhibit are trained to spot those seed sticks and love to snack with you.
Even though they have tiny claws and sharp beaks, they're gentle and just happy to be chilling with the humans.
You can feed the birds every day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
PET GOATS AND SHEEP
These are your only typical "petting zoo" animals, and just because they're not giant tortoises doesn't mean they don't love a good scratch!
The goats and sheep in Kids Cove love people. They'll come right up to you and expect some good pets on the head, back, and of course, behind their ears.
You can't feed the animals in this exhibit, but they're still happy to see you. This is great for kids of all ages.
The petting zoo is open daily.
SAY HEY TO A PORCUPINE
No, you can't pet the very sharp quills of Pedzi the African crested porcupine.
But you may see her taking a walk down the zoo's concourse.
Zookeepers often take more exotic animals like Pedzi out of their cages for surprise encounters with guests.
Pedzi stays on her leash, but people walking by can watch as she snacks on her favorite food, corn husks.
The walks help Pedzi feel a little freedom and interact with her environment, and give the guest a fun experience, too.
Pedzi and the other animals who leave their cages from time to time don't do so on a set schedule. You'll just have to wait and see if you'll be surprised once you arrive at the zoo!
Zoo Knoxville is open daily from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., with special after-hours events on Thursdays in the summer.