Let the Gourd Times Roll

Where do all the pumpkins go after Harvest?’ Tombi, the 45-year-old African elephant at the Indianapolis Zoo knows and looks forward to it every year. This is the third year she and the four other African elephants at the Zoo, Kubwa, Ivory, Kedar, and Zahara have enjoyed the bounty of pumpkins after Harvest.  


Sustainability is an important part of both Newfields’ and the Indianapolis Zoo’s missions, so it is no surprise that when neighbors Jonathan Wright and Scott Sullivan (Jonathan is the Director of the Garden and Fairbanks Park at Newfields and Scott is the Curator of Horticulture at the Zoo) got to chatting about Harvest, they realized the animals at the zoo could benefit from the pumpkins and support institutional goals for sustainability. For Harvest, Newfields displays three semi-truckloads of locally grown pumpkins and gourds throughout The Garden for guests to enjoy during Harvest Days and Harvest Nights. This year the elephants received two pallets of large pumpkins.  


On a sunny November afternoon, my colleague Chris Alvarez and I got to go behind the scenes with Jill Sampson, Elephant Area Manager and Scott Sullivan at the Indianapolis Zoo to learn more about this symbiotic partnership and see Tombi enjoy her annual pumpkin snack. Jill placed two pristine pumpkins in Tombi’s pasture, and we watched her carefully investigate one before gently picking it up to slowly savor her snack. She is certainly a gentle giant. Jill had warned us she may eat it quickly in one bite, but she didn’t--she enjoyed every bite. After she finished the first, she happily chomped on the second.  

Tombi weighs about 8,000 pounds and eats between 200 and 250 pounds of hay and grass every day, so a bear-hug sized pumpkin is merely a light snack, but Sampson said the real benefit is enrichment. The novelty of the irregular snack simulates their minds and provides entertainment for the elephants.  


Later in the afternoon, Tombi went out to the main exhibition space where she and her friends enjoyed more pumpkins in the afternoon sun. Jill made sure to mention, fair is fair, the elephants will receive the same number of pumpkins in the end. “Thank you, it makes them very happy, and that makes us very happy,” Jill said as Tombi finished her last bite.  




The Indianapolis Zoo is just one of Newfields’ partners who receive pumpkins after Harvest. Here is a complete list: 

Center for Leadership Development / 2 truckloads for event decoration  

Kheprw Institute’s Growin’ Good in the Hood / 1 truckload for event decoration and community distribution  

Newfields’ staff as a thank you for a successful season 

Second Helpings / 239 pounds of acorn and butternut squash for human consumption  

The remainder are composted at Newfields 


Special thank you to Chad Franer, Director of Horticulture and Patty Schneider, Horticulturist at Newfields for organizing and distributing the pumpkins and for their commitment to sustainability and our partners. 

Advanced tickets are required for all members and guests.