For the last three years, the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere has welcomed guests to meet its southern white rhinos in its backstage tour “Rise and Shine with Rhinos,” but only from a distance.

Soon, however, guests will be able to not only see the rhinos up close, but they will get to touch, pet and scratch them as well.

“Rise and Shine with the Rhinos” is a 75-minute tour offered on weekends, during which people can go backstage to the rhino barn, learn about how the Nashville Zoo cares for the animals and meet the herd before the zoo opens at 9:30 a.m. Guests reserve their spot on the tour on the Nashville Zoo website, and it is open only to guests 12 and older.

Before, people could only view the rhinos from 6 feet away. However, a law change has recently allowed the Nashville Zoo to have guests pet and scratch the rhino TC.

TC is the only male southern white rhino at the Nashville Zoo, and at age 7, he weighs about 5,000 pounds. TC is known to love scratches and pets from the keepers as well as guests in the backstage tours.

“He’s very personable,” Nashville Zoo’s Backstage Pass tour guide Jessica Knox said. “He loves seeing people.”

Lead hoofstock keeper Nikole Edmunds described TC as laid-back and said he enjoys hanging out with the female rhinos.

“He wants to spend a lot of time with the females, which is not necessarily naturalistic,” Edmunds said. “We assume it’s because he came to us at such a young age and our entire crash is pretty young, so he just bonded with the girls.”

With southern white rhinos being a species nearly threatened with extinction, according to the World Wildlife Fund, Knox hopes guests will not only learn about the rhinos, but also about conservation and how the Nashville Zoo and guests can help protect rhinos like TC.

“Our guests are getting that up close, personal connection, which will hopefully build that bond between our guests and the animals so they’ll hopefully care about conservation a little bit more,” Knox said.

According to Knox, 100% of the profits the Nashville Zoo receives from the “Rise and Shine with Rhinos” tour is donated to conservation efforts supported by the zoo.

“By coming to meet and see TC and give him belly scratches, our guests are actually helping save rhinos all across the world,” Knox said.

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