We followed the zoo path for awhile, but then took a sharp left turn down a sidewalk marked “Tram Route” and walked through a gate marked “Employees Only”. Along the back of the building ahead there were several doors. As we approached one, a young man stepped out and shook our hands. He was Jordan, zookeeper in the giraffe building.
I was visiting the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska, with friends. One of them was a former student of Central College who now works at the zoo. She had arranged for us to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the giraffe building AND feed the giraffes. As we walked through, Jordan gave us background information and talked about the care and feeding of giraffes. It was all interesting information, but when we went through the final door I stopped listening.
The room was FULL of giraffes. They were in every corner, reaching for bundles of prairie reeds tied to poles. They lumbered past each other in search of attention or a fence to rub against. Some even stepped delicately backwards without a misstep.. We were dwarfed as we stood looking up at them. There were mama giraffes and even a baby giraffe looking curiously back at us.
We followed Jordan up a flight of steps and then the fun began. He handed us each a head of Romaine lettuce, which made the giraffes take notice. He introduced us to Sam, the bull giraffe of the herd and the father of Penelope, the baby giraffe. We were eye to eye with the largest giraffe in the room.
As Sam eyed our lettuce, several other giraffes eagerly approached the walkway. We tore off leaves of lettuce and held them out. The giraffes used their long tongues to pull the lettuce into their mouths, munch quickly, and swallow it down. One leaf had hardly disappeared before they were looking for the next. They followed us as we walked back and forth, offering lettuce to each one.
Even after the lettuce was gone, Sam continued to interact with us. The other giraffes lost interest and walked into different pen areas, but Sam curiously watched as we talked on the walkway. It was the most interesting thing to be so close to Sam’s wrinkled face and imagine the life of a giraffe. He stood next to us, easily within reach, and listened as we visited. Once in awhile he would walk away and meet Layla for a little giraffe nuzzle or take a nibble of reeds, but then he would return in case another head of lettuce had materialized.
Giraffes are fascinating animals! Today I met them up close and looked right into their eyes. I learned how they move giraffes at the zoo and how they take care of them inside and out in their habitat. Today I held out lettuce and shared it as a big giraffe treat. I think the lettuce made their day, but meeting them up close and personal certainly made mine!