Asheboro, NC – Randolph Community College’s Welding Technology program housed at the College’s Archdale Center and the N.C. Zoo may seem miles apart—24.2 miles to be exact. But the RCC Welding students and the Zoo closed that gap recently with a collaborative project that resulted in a better feeding situation for the Zoo’s elephants.

RCC Welding instructor Allan Bechel said Zoo officials initially approached RCC Welding Department Head David Holcomb about RCC students taking on the project, and the Zoo provided the supplies. The problem: when zoo elephants consumed hay from the ground, a good bit of sand got swept up with the food. The solution: a feeder that would keep hay off the ground.

The students came up with the initial design, presented it to the zookeepers, made refinements based on their feedback, and delivered a prototype in March. “The hay feeder that David and his students built looks and works fantastic!” said Dennis Cordier, N.C. Zoo elephant manager, in an e-mail message to Archdale Center Director Lisa Bock after the prototype was installed. “It is so nice to be able to offer the elephants their hay off the ground. I’m also hoping to see a reduction in the amount of sand colic like we’ve seen in the past.”

Bechel said projects like this help the students learn to fabricate, read a blueprint, and repair welds, among other skills. He said each feeder took the students about 16 hours to create.

Student Dilip Tolani of Archdale was the project leader and built the prototype as his fabrication project for the spring semester. Many of the other Welding students contributed to the final design and all helped build six additional feeders, which were delivered from Archdale to the Zoo on July 11 in a caravan of small pick-up trucks. Guy Lichty, curator of mammals for the Zoo, was on hand to take delivery of the feeders at the Zoo’s elephant barn. The six additional feeders, three blue, one red, one pink, and one white (some of the female zookeepers requested some diversity of color, according to Bechel), will be mounted by the Zoo personnel at different points inside and outside the elephant barn.

The bracketed metal crates can be moved as needed, said Bechel. A 9 x 9 opening allows the elephant access to the feed; the elephant can also pull hay through the bars from the top and sides of the feeder. In addition, a round hollow ball with openings is mounted on an inner pole and is sometimes filled with elephant treats like sweet feed and monkey biscuits to give the elephants a challenge. Elephant handler Jennifer Hathaway said the complex design forces the elephants to take longer to eat and gives them an activity. “It is a form of enrichment for them,” she said.

After the feeders were unloaded, Lichty asked the zookeepers to bring out C’sar, the Zoo’s oldest bull elephant. The prototype feeder was already attached to an outside viewing area at the elephant barn, and the zookeepers filled it with hay to show the feeder in action. The students eagerly gathered around to watch, taking pictures, and commenting on how the feeder was working and how it might be improved even further.

As C’sar pressed his face against the bars to reach the hay, he rested his tusks on the top of feeder’s brackets. “He has a heavy head (about 200 lbs. worth of tusk), so any time he can rest it he will,” said Lichty. “(The feeder) has proven to be durable…elephant proof.”

In addition to Tolani, students participating in the project included Garland Currin of Archdale; Danny Rhamy and Jacob Strickland of Asheboro; Kenneth Brown and Thomas Crowell of Greensboro; Alston Greene of High Point; Brandon Powell of Lexington; Jayce Kinney of Liberty; Frank Turner of Seagrove; and Jeremy Shelar of Trinity.

Randolph Community College’s Welding Technology program offers both a diploma (45 credit hours) and a certificate program (14 credit hours) and is now accepting students for fall enrollment. The curriculum provides students with a sound understanding of the science, technology, and applications essential for successful employment in the welding and metalworking industry.

Instruction includes consumable and non-consumable electrode welding and cutting processes. Courses may include math, print reading, metallurgy, welding inspection, and destructive and nondestructive testing providing the student with industry-standard skills developed through classroom training and practical application.

Graduates of the Welding Technology curriculum may be employed as entry-level technicians in welding and metalworking industries. Career opportunities also exist in construction, manufacturing, fabrication, sales, quality control, supervision, and welding-related self-employment.

For more information, contact David Holcomb at 336-862-7995 or