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.
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 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.