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Up Close and Personal Southwick’s Zoo Animal Encounters

Experience close encounters with sloths, rhinos, birds and giraffes at Southwick's Zoo on 200 beautiful acres in Mendon, Massachusetts.

At Southwick’s Zoo in Mendon Massachusetts, the largest zoo in New England, you can get up close to some of the animals and learn about their habits and habitats through the zoo’s conservation programs.

Becky Gibel, host of Simply Southern New England, met up with Betsey Brewer Bethel at Southwick’s Zoo to experience these amazing animal encounters first-hand. Watch the video above or read the full transcript below, lightly edited for clarity.

Family-Owned Southwick’s Zoo

Betsey Brewer Bethel, Southwick’s Zoo (00:08) – Here at Southwick Zoo, we’re a family-owned business. We do not receive any state or government funding whatsoever. We’re private. And I think our passion shines through.

We’re on 200 acres. That’s a very large zoo. We’re the largest in New England. The average zoo in the United States is less than 50 acres. So we’re blessed to have this beautiful piece of property and a place where we can spread our conservation, our education messages and also entertain people and our guests.

Southwick's Zoo animal encounters

Southwick’s Zoo Animal Encounters

BBB (00:37) – Through the nonprofit EARTH Limited that is here at Southwick Zoo, we strive to promote and inspire children and adults to care about the planet. We offer a lot of conservation programs which include animal encounters with the sloths and the rhinos, and the birds and the giraffes.

Intensive Rhino Encounters

BBB (00:56) – The rhino encounter is more intensive. And we meet you at the gate. We give you a history of Southwick’s Zoo. We walk down, we watch a short video clip about rhino conservation and poaching. And then we spend about a half hour with the rhinos.

BG (01:17) – Wow, this is Thelma and Louise.

BBB (01:23) – So this is a white rhino. And white rhinos are from Africa. So they’re keystone species. They’re very important to the landscape and the environment of Africa. And their horns, which they get poached for are simply hair. You can see right now because it’s been very humid here.

So the hair is really coming out on her horns right here. Normally, it’s more like our fingernails’ keratins and proteins where they just file them down and keep them smooth. But in the humidity and all the rain that we’ve been having… Thelma’s horn here is very hairy.

BG (01:56) – She’s getting frizzy like I am.

BBB (01:58) – Yeah, she’s frizzy like both of us are. This is what they’re poached for unfortunately. It’s simply hair. And you can actually touch Thelma’s horn.

BG (02:07) – Hey Thelma. Oh, wow. And so it’s like compacted hair.

BBB (02:15) – The interesting thing about these guys is even though they weigh over 4,000 pounds a piece, they are extremely fast. I’ve seen them jump. I’ve seen them spin around. And I’ve also seen them run. And they can run about 35 miles an hour. Aren’t they pretty cool? She’s my baby. I absolutely love rhinos. I think they’re the coolest.

Endangered Species at Southwick’s Zoo

BG (02:44) – Now how endangered are these guys? Very?

BBB (02:47) – These are the least endangered of all five species of rhinos. However, there are only about 18,000 of them left out on reserves and in the wild. So I don’t think you can get much more endangered than that. Even though they’re listed as threatened.

Right now, all rhino species are under threat. And these guys are under the biggest threat due to poaching, the white and the black rhinos. And that’s why we do these encounters. Because we want people to care. We want to get people involved in rhino conservation, at least to spread the word and create awareness.

You can scratch her behind the ear. Let me show you.

BG (03:22) – Okay, show me what to do. Oh my gosh, I’m touching a rhino. Oh hello. You are very, very smooth. Thank you. I’ll be back.

BBB (03:46) – We feel really good about what we’re offering here and what we’re doing. We’re very passionate about conservation. And I think it really shows.

Southwick Zoo hours for the 2021 season are 10am – 5pm daily, April 12th through October 31st. For more information, visit southwickszoo.com.

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