Jules feels like he’s with one of the big guys here in the elephant exhibition.
Melbourne is fortunate to have two excellent zoos offering totally different ways of seeing a huge range of animals.
The Royal Melbourne Zoological Gardens are in Parkville. Here you can do some very unusual things. Slumber Safaris are great fun, spending the night in the African savannah, complete with campfire stories. Roar'n'Snore is another overnight stay, with a walk through the zoo before dinner, then head to your tent to awaken to the sounds of animals in the morning.
Last year the Trail of the Elephants opened. Visitors enter an Asian village on the fringe of a tropical rainforest. It is all cleverly designed to set up a meeting place between humans and elephants.
Bong Su arrived as a young elephant in 1977 as a gift from the Sultan of Pahang in Malasia. Mek Kapah arrived in 1978. She, like Bong Su, was an orphan. Their new space is three-and-a-half times larger than their previous home, giving them much more stimulation. They sleep just four hours a day and now have a range of activities for the other 20 hours.
They walk on natural surfaces in an area containing plants and landscaping closely resembling their natural habitat. There are shrubs, rocks, trees and a bamboo forest.
That elephants have thick skin might be true, but it is very sensitive to sun. They use water, dirt and mud wallows to cool down and at Melbourne Zoo they have a large custom-built pool.
Their new barn has built-in cooling and heating systems which imitate night situations in their natural habitat.
Stage two will be completed next year and will see the addition of two or three female Asian elephants to form a small herd.
Victoria's Open Range Zoo is in Werribee, just 35km from Melbourne's CBD. The 200ha property, developed around the Werribee River, has grown from being an agistment property for Melbourne Zoo.
It is now home to a range of wonderful animals from the African, Asian, North American and Australian grasslands. A guided wildlife safari takes visitors amongst the animals, with some close-up encounters.
The African savannah has rhinoceros, giraffe, zebra and eland sharing the river flood plain. Australia's only drive-through hippopotamus waterhole exhibit is here too.
Meerkats, cheetah, vervet monkeys and serval cats are on display in exhibits linked by a series of waterways.
Werribee also offers a slumber safari. You spend the night in private, luxury tents which sleep four and see wildlife by spotlight. There is an African barbecue feast for dinner and rhinos and zebras act as your morning alarm clock. After breakfast you can take a paddle down the Werribee River or drive in an open-back vehicle for fantastic photography opportunities.
Lions on the Edge opened in January this year and is quite a development. There are two lion groups, three females and two males, offering amazing viewing from the trails and safari tour.
The story begins by walking through a created habitat with evidence of lions. Bones, pawprints and smells, an abandoned ranger's truck and a lion's roar increase the anticipation.
The trail reveals a storyline through audiovisuals, soundscapes, props and a herder's hut with a kraal complete with cows, goats, donkeys and chickens. Visitors are separated from the lions by a thick glass barrier.
You will also see replica giant termite mounds, an elephant grass maze and meerkat exhibit.