Encounter Africa

Encounter Africa

An Incredible Journey.

Encounter Africa provides exquisite habitats for African elephants, African lions, meerkats and the majestic black rhinoceros. The views of Colorado Springs seen from the exhibit’s sky bridge remind you that you’re close to the city limits, but walking side by side with the Zoo’s elephants takes you to a different world.

During your visit to Encounter Africa you can experience:

An Incredible Journey

  • how lions hunt with an interactive Cape buffalo sculpture,
  • elephants taking a dip in an elephant-sized pool,
  • taking photos with life-sized elephant sculptures,
  • playing in a restored bush plane cantilevered into the black rhino exhibit,
  • meeting meerkats, and watch them eat out of an interactive termite mound,
  • watching lions from three separate viewing areas,
  • visiting the Wilgruen Elephant Center – catch a glimpse of our animals inside, rolling in the sand or enjoying an elephant-operated shower,
  • walking across the sky bridge for a spectacular panorama of the city, and
  • with so much to discover you’ll feel that you’ve been whisked away to the African savanna!

Meet the Animals

Lions, Elephants and Rhinos, Oh My!

Share the wonders and understand the magnificence of these animals of Africa in an way that you never have before! Including African elephants, black rhino, African lions and more, Encounter Africa is uniquely positioned to give guests the kind of extraordinary, up-close experience for which Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is known and loved.


Cheyenne Mountain Zoo welcomed two new elephants to our herd during October 2015. Missy, 46, and Kimba Lou, 33, came from the Lee Richardson Zoo in Garden City, KS. The two elephants are settling into their new home, meeting new elephant friends and learning all the interactive features of the Wilgruen Elephant Center. So far, animal keepers have been very pleased with the new elephants’ transition to CMZ, and are excited to see how the herd continues to evolve with their addition.


The largest of our African elephant herd, Kimba weighs more than 10,000 lbs and stands 9.5 feet tall.  Born in 1978 at Kruger National Park in South Africa, Kimba came to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in 1981, along with Lucky.  Kimba and Lucky have been together for more than 30 years! Although Kimba is the biggest, she is the middle elephant in our hierarchy.  She has a gentle personality and is very food motivated.  She is known for her love of eating, especially bananas, watermelons, pumpkins and cabbage. She, along with Lucky, Malaika and Jambo, eats a total of more than 450 lbs of grain and hay per day! You can tell Kimba apart from the other elephants by her mismatched tusks; she has a long left tusk and a short right tusk, which she broke off in 2009.



Lucky weighs about 8,000 lbs. and stands 9 feet tall.  Like Kimba, Lucky was born at the Kruger National Park in South Africa.  After being orphaned, she came to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in 1981, when she was one year old.  Lucky has a very feisty personality and is a very playful elephant, who will play all day long if the others let her (although she is at the bottom of the elephant heirarchy).  Her favorite ways to play are by smashing, crushing, and demolishing all enrichment items that she can. 

Lucky also loves keeper interaction, and is very enthusiastic at training time, being particularly motivated by pumpkins, cabbage, watermelon and bananas.  She loves keeper interaction so much, however, that she’s been known to throw things (especially poop!) in their direction just to get their attention. One of her favorite enrichment activities is painting, and she has become famous for her beautiful works of art, which are proudly displayed in many homes and offices around the area.  You can recognize Lucky by her short tusks, which she uses often in play. Learn more about elephant art.



The smallest and youngest elephant in our herd, Malaika, was born in 1986.  She weighs 8,500 lbs and stands 9 feet tall.  She may be the smallest elephant in our herd, but she is definitely mighty.  Malaika came to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in 2008, after a career in film and television with a private owner.  When she arrived, she quickly assumed the role of dominant female, using her confident and assertive personality to rise to the top of our group hierarchy.  She had no hesitation about meeting Lucky and Kimba, wanting to get close to them and investigate as soon as she arrived.


Malaika is a gentle and good-natured elephant who loves attention from her keepers (in fact, she demands it!) and particularly enjoys enrichment items like puzzle feeders.  Like Kimba, Lucky and Jambo, Malaika gets plenty of one-on-one keeper time per day, with multiple daily training sessions.  Favorite foods include apples, watermelons and bananas.  Malaika has two equal tusks, which are longer than Lucky’s but shorter than Kimba’s.



Jambo, which means “hello” in Swahili, is the newest addition to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s African elephant herd. She was born in Zimbabwe in 1983 and spent most of her life in the entertainment business before moving to the zoo last year. Jambo weighs 8,000 pounds and stands nine feet tall. She has the shortest tusks in the herd, but has a lot of hair compared to the other three elephants.

Jambo is a very energetic, eager to train elephant and is known for double-checking the locks in the barn with her trunk. She’s always looking to stay busy with animal care staff and enrichment activities. Discover how you can help with African elephant & rhino conservation.




Our pride of African lions is made up of a male Abuto, females Zwena and Lomela, and Lomela’s three cubs, males Aslan and Boma and female Elsa. The cubs are Lomela and Abuto’s first litter. Lomela is a fantastic mother, very protective and caring towards her cubs. All of our lions are food-motivated; they especially love beef bones, raw chicken, and pumpkins.  Our pride also loves to roll around in elephant and zebra poop, practicing the “scent masking” technique they would use in the wild to sneak up on their prey.



Jumbe (pronounced joom-bay), an Eastern black rhinoceros, is one of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s newest family members. His journey to our Zoo started at Caldwell Zoo in Texas, another AZA accredited facility. Jumbe weighs appromimagely 2,660 lbs. and stands about five feet tall at his shoulder. His skin is dark brown, which is typical for the species – they are not black, as their name suggests. Rhinos are solitary animals, preferring to spend their time alone when they are not mating or caring for a calf. Jumbe prefers to spend his time pushing around a boomer ball, tossing a tire in the air and rooting around in the dirt. Keepers report that Jumbe also has a hearty appetite. As an herbivore, he gets his nutrients primarily from hay, grain and leaves. The horned nose of a rhino gives him a distinctive look; Jumbe’s larger anterior horn could grow beyond 1 ½ feet! It’s not that large yet, but be sure to visit and watch it grow through the years.  Learn about Rhino conservation.



Native to Southern Africa, meerkats live in deserts and arid scrublands. They have a very unique and specific social structure, making them fascinating to kids of all ages. Because meerkats are a favorite species of many of our guests, we are happy about having more space for meekrats with the addition of Encounter Africa.

Meerkats are very active and can usually be seen sunning themselves or digging in their tunnels. One of their favorite items to eat is live bugs; they get crickets or mealworms daily. They also eat meat, hardboiled eggs, apples, yams, bananas, and grapes, as well as a treat of bones once per week. Like many of our animals, our keepers work with our meerkats on training and provide multiple enrichment opportunities.


Elephant Sculptures

Life-sized Loxodonta at Your Fingertips.

As a part of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s Encounter Africa exhibit, four life-size elephant sculptures were commissioned to enhance the immersion experience. Created by sculpture artist Matthew Gray Palmer of Friday Harbor, WA these elephant sculptures were transported from Washington state to the Zoo in September 2012, to be installed into the new Encounter Africa Plaza.

About the Elephants:

The four elephant sculptures are of an African bull, cow, juvenile and calf elephant. Each are “acting” as they would in the wild – the solitary bull protecting his territory, the juvenile of playing and investigating, and the cow protecting her young calf. Watch the video below to learn more.


About the Artist:

Self-taught sculptor Matthew Gray Palmer grew up in Columbus, Ohio. At age 8 he began making his first life-size creatures out of available materials such as newspaper and masking tape. In 1995, Matthew started Parallaxis, an endeavor dedicated to educating people about natural science and conservation through public works of art and multimedia events. Matthew now has established himself as a sculptor for the National Park Service with installations at Arches National Park, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve in Louisiana. Recently Matthew installed a life-size African Elephant made of Butterflies at the Virginia Zoo in Norfolk, VA. His current projects include works for Mammoth Cave National Park, The Hogle Zoo, University of Kentucky, and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.


Watch a Timelapse Video of the Bull Elephant’s Fabrication:



Come experience Encounter Africa at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo!

African mammal silhouettes walking across page