Get Ready for a Wild Encounter:
Helping with the Heavyweights

  1. Participants must be in relatively good physical condition. It is important that you are able to go up and down stairways at a moderate pace and are able to kneel for up to 15 minutes at a time.
  2. Communication between you and the host keeper is crucial. You must be able to read, speak, and understand English with out the use of an interpreter. If you are unable to participate in the program without an interpreter, please call (708) 688-8369.
  3. You must be attentive and follow directions at all times. Although our rhinos and other exhibit animals are comfortable having their human caregivers working close to them, they are still animals and their behavior is unpredictable. It is important that you pay close attention to the guidance and instructions of the zoo crew.
Please note the following precautions:
  • All participants are required to complete a signed liability waiver*.
  • You cannot participate in this program if you are pregnant.
  • Not all portions of Helping With The Heavyweights are fully accessible. Guests with disabilities: please call (708) 688-8338, for accessibility information.


Who can register for Helping with the Heavyweights?

  • Adults
  • Youth over the age of 12 with the written permission of a parent or guardian

    Can my family or friends watch me participate in this program?
    To ensure the safety of all involved, only the registered program participants will be allowed in the areas where the program is taking place.

    What should I wear?
    As part of the program, you will be indoors in warmly heated areas. Please wear long pants. There is the chance that your clothing will come in contact with water, so you may want to bring a change of clothes also. We will provide you with waterproof work boots, so be sure to wear or bring socks. You will be asked to remove all jewelry other than smooth wedding bands (no stones). Because you may be in front of the public during various sessions, we ask that you wear something presentable without holes or noticeable wear.

    Where do we meet?
    A keeper will meet you at west entrance of Pachyderm House by the "Wild Encounter Meets Here" sign promptly at 8:00 a.m. If you are being dropped off, please follow the drive way near the building. If you are parking your car for the length of the program, please park in the south lot and walk down to the door. Since this is prior to zoo regular opening hours, please do not visit any other parts of the zoo.

    What if I’m late?
    If you are more than 15 minutes late, please call (708) 688- 8489 and the keeper will meet you as soon as they are able. If you arrive late, the length of the program cannot be extended past 9:45 a.m.
  • What do I need to know about working with the animals?
    Although our Helping with the Heavyweights animals are comfortable working with their human caregivers, they are still wild animals and their behavior is unpredictable. It is important that you pay close attention to the guidance and instructions of the keeper you are spending the morning with. Never enter any animal area without direction from the keeper. Always wait for instructions and authorization from the keeper before approaching any of the animals while participating in training and feeding sessions.

    May I bring a camera?
    Yes, but your zoo crew will instruct you as to when and where photo opportunities are available.

    What do I need to do with the Waiver Sheet?
    Please bring your signed copy of the waiver with you to the program. We cannot offer the program without a signed waiver. If you are under 18, the waiver must be signed by a parent or guardian and an adult non-paying chaperone need accompany anyone under 18. If you have any questions about the waiver please call prior to the program date.

    If you have questions, please call 708-688-8361 or send an email to