What Makes Giraffe Feedings So Popular?

My name is Austin Williams and I am currently working as an intern at the Houston Zoo. Recently, I got a chance to experience a giraffe feeding that guests can participate in twice a day here. Read on to see what makes feeding giraffes so special.



The Houston Zoo has many exciting and fun activities to offer the people who come and visit our animals, but perhaps the most popular activity at the zoo is Giraffe feeding.  People line up on a daily basis just to get the chance to interact with our Masai giraffes, which begs the question: why is giraffe feeding so popular?

To answer this question myself, I headed over to the giraffe platform to observe and participate in feeding our lovable giraffe family. Approaching the platform I immediately realized that this experience was unpredictable. Why you may ask?  You never know which member of the giraffe family you will interact with, and with each one displaying their own habits, every experience is excitingly unique.  I had the pleasure to feed the head of the giraffe family, Mtembei, father of our newly-born baby Gigi. Similar to the rest of the family, Mtembei is a very gentle natured and curious giraffe. When guests are given romaine lettuce for the feeding, the giraffes are curious as to who will be fed next and they will move in your direction to make sure they are the lucky winner. During my experience Baridi, son of Mtembei, approached the platform, giving me the opportunity to observe the different habits between father and son. From the start it was very clear that Mtembei was a persistent and eager eater who would not stray from the platform until feeding time was over. Baridi on the other hand only stuck around for a few pieces of lettuce before going back to the yard. During my time at the platform I learned that the giraffes respond to their names; something you might not know unless you experience giraffe feeding firsthand. The rangers who supervise the feedings will call the giraffes by name to come over when guests are waiting to feed them. However, witnessing this first hand also showed me that the giraffes can be like children in the sense that they don’t always respond to their names being called. I realized that one of the biggest draws to giraffe feeding is the educational experience.Giraffe_Feeding_Platform_Medium2

Aside from learning about the giraffes, what I believe to be the key to giraffe feeding popularity is the engaging family experience. From elderly couples to toddlers, the giraffe feeding platform welcomes all ages offering the opportunity for the zoo and our giraffes to make a lasting impression on the guests. Kids become ecstatic the first moment they are handed a piece of lettuce to give to our giraffes. The fact that they get the chance to interact with an animal rather than watching behind glass makes their day. Parents love the experience because their child is happy and they get to capture a special moment that will last forever through pictures. There’s also nothing like seeing a parent carrying their toddler right up to a giraffe for it to eat the lettuce right out of their little hands. Each experience is special, creating a memory that will last a lifetime.giraffe

Giraffe feeding runs two-fold, not only impacting our guests but also impacting our giraffes in a positive way. Guests provide enrichment for our giraffes through the activity because it keeps the giraffes active and they also like the romaine lettuce. The giraffes receive a nutritionally balanced diet every day and since the lettuce is 97% water, it does not impact their diet making it fun for us and enjoyable for the giraffes.

The fact that giraffe feeding not only excites our guests but also keeps the giraffes healthy and active is a testament to why this experience is so popular. Sharon Joseph, VP of Animal Operations, said “the primary reason we started doing the giraffe feedings is because it provides such an impactful, personal animal experience for our guests,” and after my experience, I truly believe that is the case.

A Million Thanks to TXU Energy

What makes the Houston Zoo such a cherished place to learn and play? The devotion of staff and volunteers and a family of 6,000 animal ambassadors are critical to a quality experience for our guests. But as a non-profit, our success begins with the exceptional philanthropic support of the Houston community, including corporate partners like TXU Energy. This generous friend of the Zoo has embraced our mission through giving that recently surpassed the $1 million milestone.

TXU Energy Presents Chill Out
Our animals enjoy cool treats all summer long, thanks to TXU Energy!

As the presenting sponsor of Chill Out since 2011 and Zoo Lights since its inception, TXU Energy makes summer sublime while adding a bit of wonder to winter. With their sponsorship of Pollinator Palooza, TXU Energy helps highlight the importance of birds, butterflies, and bees in our daily lives. Further still, this company leads by example during our annual Gift of Grub campaign by matching every donation up to $50,000, boosting individual giving by an average of more than 20% over the past two years. TXU Energy’s contributions enhance our ability to care for our animals, provide enlightening educational programming, and save endangered species in the wild.

TXU Energy Presents Zoo Lights
TXU Energy has been a sponsor of Zoo Lights since its inception!

TXU Energy’s dedication to the Houston Zoo is ingrained in their culture. “For over 130 years, the family of companies that TXU Energy stems from has made social responsibility a priority. Our commitment to being a company of people who support the communities where we live, work and serve unites and strengthens us as an organization,” says Sydney Seiger, TXU Energy Chief Marketing Officer. The Zoo’s partnership with TXU Energy is reinforced by our mutual enthusiasm for conservation education: “We share a philosophy of educating individuals to make positive impacts wherever they can. For example, whether you’re making decisions for your home or your business, the benefits of managing your energy usage can really make a difference for the environment and your budget,” says Ms. Seiger. “The Houston Zoo is a top-notch destination for family fun and wonderful educational programs. Our partnership with the Zoo gives us a unique opportunity to interact with our customers in a tremendous environment.”

TXU Energy matches every donation up to $50,000 in the yearly Gift of Grub campaign
TXU Energy matches every donation up to $50,000 in the yearly Gift of Grub campaign

We proudly recognize TXU Energy for their active role in growing the greater Houston community and extend our sincere thanks for everything TXU Energy does to brighten the lives of the Houston Zoo’s animals and guests!


TXU Energy Logo



Give the Gift of Grub to Banded Mongooses!

Often when people come across an animal that is working with a trainer here at the Houston Zoo, they see how much fun everyone is having. And it’s true – it is a lot of fun! Guests enjoy watching the keepers interact with the animals and the keepers love training – it’s one of the coolest parts of our job. Even the animals seem to enjoy themselves and it’s very stimulating for them. Because we use positive reinforcement training at the Houston Zoo, the animals choose to participate in training and it’s one of the most dynamic ways we can enrich them, both physically and mentally.

Porcupine Training

All fun aside, there’s a deeper purpose to a lot of the training we do here. When we train an animal to get on a scale, to climb in a kennel, or even voluntarily receive an injection, those are important behaviors – we call them husbandry behaviors – that help make the routine care our animals receive safe and much easier for everyone involved. This type of training is essential, and it can’t happen without…GRUB! Positive reinforcement training only works if there is something that motivates the animal to participate, and for most animals (including me!) delicious food is extremely motivating.

Recently I began caring for a new group of animals in the Children’s Zoo – banded mongoose! There are six of them, three males and three females. They are active, curious and fun to watch – if you haven’t seen them yet, stop by the McGovern Children’s Zoo – but there are several big challenges to caring for them. How do you weigh, medicate, or check on a very intelligent animal that has a burrow underground? How do you even tell them apart?! Training is the answer, so it’s a good thing for us that the mongooses are VERY food motivated.


The mongooses are omnivores just like us. They love to eat mice, chicks, meat, worms, crickets, and when they can’t find anything else, they’ll eat their salad (again, just like me!). We’ve used their love of food to train the females to come eat on one side of the exhibit and the males to eat on the other. Now when we need to get a good look at them to figure out who is who, we only have three to compare instead of all six at once. This is a huge help with medicating them and when we eventually teach them to get on a scale, it will help with that, too! Soon we will start using their favorite foods to encourage them to enter a kennel. Once they get comfortable with that it will be a piece of cake for us to move them at any time. That reduces stress for everybody!


When you give the Gift of Grub, you are giving much more than just food. You help us enrich the animals and make their lives healthier and better in so many ways. If you haven’t seen the mongoose in action yet make sure you stop by and watch them running, digging, and playing. With animals this rambunctious, I’m sure you’ll see why we’re glad for all the help we can get!

A gift of just $12 could provide 3 boxes of worms and $22 could deliver 3 boxes of crickets – two treats sure to please our mongooses! Visit the Grub Gift Shop to learn more about our annual grocery list and how you can give the Gift of Grub to the animals at the Houston Zoo. TXU Energy will double every donation made to the Gift of Grub campaign by December 31, dollar-for-dollar, up to $50,000! Don’t miss this opportunity for your contribution to have twice the impact on feeding your friends at the Zoo.



Look Who is Trading in The Naturally Wild Swap Shop

Meet Hailey Wolfe, self proclaimed Naturalist and Budding Zoologist.  Hailey recently brought in an excellent nature journal to trade titled “The Pros and Cons of Being a Giraffe”.

Hailey’s Giraffe Journal

Hailey is quite the gifted writer and created a journal that reads like a storyteller’s tale.  She begins with a description of feeding the giraffes here at the Houston Zoo that includes beautiful and artistic detail about the giraffe’s long tongue and big, calm eyes.  She invites all to come along with her to learn more about these sweet giants.

She then moves on to giraffes in the wild and completes her journal with information and pictures of the giraffe herd here at the zoo.

Hailey has been trading with us since early this year and has brought in a variety of items including bones, shells and journals.  At 11 years old, she already has quite a knowledge of animals and a talent for writing about them.

Nature Journals are one of many things that can be brought in for trade.  The more time and effort put in to them, the more points a journal will receive.  To see Hailey’s journal and many others, come by the Naturally Wild Swap Shop at the front of the Children’s Zoo.

Don’t know about trading at the Swap Shop?  Click here to find out more.




New at the Zoo: Giant Elephant Shrews

The next time you are in the Natural Encounters building, look closely near the ground in the Rainforest exhibit. The two little mammalian vacuum cleaners you’ll see there are recent additions to the Zoo, our Giant Elephant Shrews. “Phoenix” and “Karma” are young brothers, arriving from the Denver Zoo where they were born last year.

Shrews use their remarkably long noses to dig into the mulch and gravel to nab mealworms, crickets, and other parts of their diet. In the wild they forage for a wider range of insects and other invertebrates, so to round out their nutrition our commissary also prepares for them a custom blend of earthworms, cat food, peanut oil, protein powder, and vitamin C.

Though Phoenix and Karma are small, they are full grown adults. There are more than a dozen species of shrews that range in size from tiny pygmy shrews to these “giants.” They are found in parts of East Africa, including coastal forests of Kenya  and Tanzania, though due to their natural ability to hide in the undergrowth and tendency to live far from human habitation, they are very rarely seen in the wild. Their habitat is under threat as well, mostly due to agriculture and logging.

This video shows Phoenix nosing around the lower gravel area and munching mealworms in the Rainforest exhibit; Karma was feeling particularly shy that day and stayed well hidden in the upper mulched area. (We made sure he received plenty of mealworms as well that afternoon.)

Wish Phoenix and Karma a happy birthday when you see them!  They were born on May 27, 2011.


12 Days of Grub: Day 12 – Twelve Flamingos Flocking

On the Twelfth Day of Grub, your zoo gift will help to feed…Twelve Flamingos Flocking, Eleven Meerkats Mobbing, Ten Chimps a Chasing, Nine Fruit Bats Flying, Eight Giraffes a Galloping, Seven Snakes a Slithering, Six Mole-rats Mining, Five Golden Frogs, Four Calling Birds, Three Wild Dogs, Two Grizzly Bears, and Darwin the Cassowary! CLICK HERE to read them all!

Chilean Flamingos Feeding at the Houston Zoo


Here at the Houston Zoo, one of the most beautiful sights is our large flock of Chilean Flamingos. These brightly-colored birds are social, vocal and highly interesting. Amazingly, the size of our flock is nothing compared to the spectacular gatherings these birds would naturally form in the wild; Chilean Flamingos are known to form flocks numbering into the thousands!


Flamingos have grooves along the edges of their beaks used for filtering small food items from the water

Without question, one of the most intriguing aspects of these unique birds is the way they feed. Flamingos have a specialized beak designed to help “filter” small plants and animals out of the water, which are then consumed and metabolized to create the striking pink coloration! Flamingos will take in a mouth full of water (along with whatever happens to be in the water), and then use their tongue to push all the water through special grooves on their beak. The result is a mouthful of food that these birds will then eat!

Here at the Houston Zoo, our flamingos are fed a variety of different pelleted diets (depending on the time of year and their current metabolic needs). These pellets are made to be nutritionally complete, which could easily help contribute to the fact that several of our flamingos are in their forties and fifties!  Our flamingos also receive krill, a small species of shrimp that is relished as a treat.

A large group of animals can prove to be ravenous; Chilean Flamingos are no exception. Our flock of birds readily eats through 50+ cups of pelleted diet per day. In addition, 5lbs of krill per week are consumed by our flamingos. When temperatures hit lows in the winter, these amounts are increased to keep up with the metabolic needs of these amazing birds.

Give the Gift of Grub by December 31 to help provide our flamingos and the rest of the Zoo’s 6,000 animal residents with all the tasty and nutritious grub they need to stay happy and healthy in the New Year! 

Thank you to TXU Energy for generously matching the first $25,000 in donations this year!

12 Days of Grub: Day 11 – Eleven Meerkats Mobbing

On the Eleventh Day of Grub, your zoo gift will help to feed…Eleven Meerkats Mobbing, Ten Chimps a Chasing, Nine Fruit Bats Flying, Eight Giraffes a Galloping, Seven Snakes a Slithering, Six Mole-rats Mining, Five Golden Frogs, Four Calling Birds, Three Wild Dogs, Two Grizzly Bears, and Darwin the Cassowary! CLICK HERE to read them all!

One of the most popular exhibits at the Houston Zoo is our meerkat yard. Located just outside the entrance to the Carruth Natural Encounters building, the meerkats are fun to watch as they go about their lives. And if you need a break from walking, the benches are a great place to sit and watch them.

Meerkats are small, African mammals related to the mongoose. They live in groups called “mobs,” which can have up to 40 meerkats, but it is more common for a mob to have 10 to 15 individuals. There is an alpha pair which includes the dominate members of the mob responsible for reproduction. When there is a new litter, each meerkat contributes to caring for the young by helping to find food, digging new burrows, and even babysitting the new litter. Acting as a lookout, called sentry, is another important job for meerkats. A sentry helps to protect the colony by looking out for predators and will sound the alarm if any threat is present.

In the wild, a meerkat will eat mostly insects, but it will also catch and eat reptiles, birds and other small mammals. A mob will even work together to catch venomous snakes and other larger prey.  The meerkats at the Houston Zoo love spending their days digging new burrows, exploring their enrichment, play wrestling with each other and sunbathing on exhibit. The next time you’re at the Houston Zoo, take a few minutes to enjoy the antics of the meerkats. Our meerkat yard is definitely an exhibit that is fun to see again and again!

Written By Kamryn Suttinger

Help provide tasty and nutritious grub for the Zoo’s meerkat mob and the rest of our animal family this holiday season: Give the Gift of Grub!

Thank you to TXU Energy for generously matching the first $25,000 in donations this year.  Our mob says that’s an offer you can’t refuse!

12 Days of Grub: Day 10 – Ten Chimps a Chasing

On the Tenth Day of Grub, your zoo gift will help to feed…Ten Chimps a Chasing, Nine Fruit Bats Flying, Eight Giraffes a Galloping, Seven Snakes a Slithering, Six Mole-rats Mining, Five Golden Frogs, Four Calling Birds, Three Wild Dogs, Two Grizzly Bears, and Darwin the Cassowary! CLICK HERE to read them all!

For most wild animals, the acquisition and consumption of food is not just a casual activity, but in fact a full-time job.  A wild chimpanzee in Africa must always be on the search for ripe fruit, edible greens, tasty termites or antshard-shelled nuts  and yes, even small animals to hunt and eat.

Although we can’t re-create a wild chimpanzee diet, here at the Houston Zoo, we provide our chimps with a healthy variety of food including many types of lettuce, fruits, vegetables, nuts, different types of local plants and a specialized “biscuit” made for primates in zoos.  We also give them many types of treats which make up only a small portion of their diet, but are their favorites, including popcorn, peanut butter, honey and fruit juice.

Lucy enjoys some sweet potato and sunshine

Our chimps did not grow up hunting or eating termites, ants or meat, so this is not included in their Houston Zoo diet, but they are given the daily opportunity to show off their amazing ability to use tools by “fishing” for sweet or savory treats in our termite mound replica.

The chimps enjoy using sticks to “fish” for delicious treats

In order to keep their day interesting and to keep them active, the chimps’ meals are provided at different times throughout the day.  One of their favorite types of food is “browse”, or edible plants collected for them throughout the zoo by our own amazing Horticulture team.  Everyday the chimps get some combination of mulberry, banana leaves, willow, fig leaves or other edible plants.

Mac enjoys fig leaves

Chimps aren’t great at sharing their food with one another with a few notable exceptions (moms and their babies, males “wooing” receptive females, etc.)   They have a fairly stable social hierarchy and the higher-ranking chimps have first access to the yummy stuff.  For that reason, it is important that we make sure the food is scattered throughout the chimps’ entire habitat so that each member has the opportunity to collect food, and there is always enough for everyone.

Feeding the zoo’s animals is one of the best parts of being a zookeeper.  We enjoy giving them their food almost as much as they enjoy eating it!

Give the Gift of Grub this holiday season to help provide tasty meals for our chimpanzees and all of the animals at the Houston Zoo!  Our chimps send their ape-preciation for your support.

Thank you also to TXU Energy for generously matching the first $25,000 in donations this year!

12 Days of Grub: Day 9 – Nine Fruit Bats Flying

On the Ninth Day of Grub, your zoo gift will help to feed…Nine Fruit Bats Flying, Eight Giraffes a Galloping, Seven Snakes a Slithering, Six Mole-rats Mining, Five Golden Frogs, Four Calling Birds, Three Wild Dogs, Two Grizzly Bears, and Darwin the Cassowary! CLICK HERE to read them all!

At the Houston Zoo, Straw-colored fruit bats (Eidolon helvum) can be seen in the Bat Cave area of the Carruth Natural Encounters building. These are one of the largest species of fruit bats in the world and the Houston Zoo has 24 of them on exhibit! Just as their name implies, Straw-colored fruit bats love to eat fruit. In fact, at the zoo, they eat 15lbs of fruit every day! In the wild, these African bats roost high up in treetops during the day and at night fill the sky as they forage for figs and other types of fruit.

When you stop at the bat exhibit, look for bats with their mouths full of the 3 different types of fruit they get each day. Their favorite fruits to eat are grapes, bananas and cantaloupe, but they also have mango, apple, pear, papaya and honey-dew melon. When a bat finds a tasty piece of fruit, it takes the biggest bite it possibly can and swallows all the juice from the fruit as it chews. When there is no more juice, the bat spits the remaining pulp, seeds and skin out onto the floor. In the wild, this habit is crucial to the forests’ health. The pulp and skin from the fruit decays on the forest floor, which helps enrich the soil, and by spitting seeds out, bats help more plants grow. If a bat happens to swallow a seed, it will pass, undamaged, through the bat’s digestive tract and, eventually, be deposited on the ground in one of the world’s best fertilizers: bat feces. In this way, the bats ensure that there will always be a plentiful supply of their preferred foods.

You may not know it, but many different species of bats help us get some of the foods we like to eat too. Bats are important pollinators. Fruit bats, like the ones in Natural Encounters, help spread pollen from one plant to another while foraging for fruit in the tree tops. Without bats, a lot of things we like to eat would be much more difficult to produce. Foods like avocado, peaches, carob and many others are all pollinated by different types of bats.

Like many other animals, wild bat populations are suffering due to things like habitat loss, disease, and even the pet trade. To learn more about native Texas bat populations and how you can help bats worldwide, visit Bat Conservation International or stop by the bat cave in the Carruth Natural Encounters Building.

Written by Kamryn Suttinger

Give the Gift of Grub for the holidays to help feed our fruit bats and the rest of the Zoo’s 6,000 animal residents! 

Our thanks to TXU Energy for generously matching the first $25,000 in donations this year!

12 Days of Grub: Day 8 – Eight Giraffes a Galloping

On the Eighth Day of Grub, your zoo gift will help to feed…Eight Giraffes a Galloping, Seven Snakes a Slithering, Six Mole-rats Mining, Five Golden Frogs, Four Calling Birds, Three Wild Dogs, Two Grizzly Bears, and Darwin the Cassowary! CLICK HERE to read them all!

What is the best thing to do after your afternoon snack?  Well if you are Asali, the Houston Zoo’s nine-month-old Masai giraffe, the best thing is to gallop.  Nothing feels better than to stretch out those long, long legs.

While it was too hot that afternoon to get the rest of her family involved in the fun, the heat was of no concern to Asali.  Even the ostriches watched in amazement as Asali worked off those calories.

Dinner Time at The Houston Zoo

What is on the menu for the Masai giraffe at Houston Zoo?  Our giraffes enjoy hay, fruits and vegetables, and romaine lettuce.  However, their most favorite food of all time is the vast array of different plant material provided by the horticulture staff at Houston Zoo.  The horticulture staff will search the entire zoo looking for tasty treats for the animals, and since they are so tall, the giraffes are able to see them bringing the food from across the zoo.  The giraffe keepers will then place the branches up really high so that the giraffes have to reach up high for them.

This behavior is exactly the same in the wild.  Giraffes are able to reach very high up in the trees to get the tastiest leaves.  Please come by The Houston Zoo’s African Forest exhibit and watch our herd of Masai giraffes as they explore their exhibit, look for food, lounge in the shade, and of course, stretch out those long giraffe legs.

Written by John Register, Hoofed Stock Supervisor


Help provide tasty and nutritious grub for the Zoo’s giraffes and the rest of our animal family this holiday season: Give the Gift of Grub!

Our thanks to TXU Energy for matching the first $25,000 in donations this year.  That’s a LOT of lettuce!


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