Como Zoo’s new giraffe feeding station opens May 21 

Full grown reticulated giraffes can reach to the height of a second story window–but that doesn’t mean they can’t be overlooked.

In fact, until recently, very little research existed on the unusual biology and complex social behaviors of the world’s tallest land mammal– a trend that’s shifting now as conservation researchers are starting to take the full measure of these gentle giants.

“The wild population of giraffes has dropped by 40 percent in the last 15 years, so it’s important that giraffes are finally having their moment in the spotlight,” says Como Zoo hoofstock keeper Adam Nigon. “They really are amazing, iconic animals that people should get to know more about.”

Did You Know?

  • The name Giraffe Camelopardalis means “one who walks quickly, a camel marked like a leopard.”
  • The world’s giraffe population has plummeted from 140,000 in 2000 to an estimated 80,000 today due to habitat loss, excessive hunting and poaching.
  • Como Zoo’s new public feeding station for our gentle herd of giraffes was made possible by funding from Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund matched with private contributions secured by Como Friends.

Giraffes are enjoying a moment in the spotlight, thanks to a growing body of research about their unique biology and behavior. As the New York Times reported recently, “Scientists have lately discovered that giraffes are not the social dullards or indifferent parents they were reputed to be, but instead have much in common with another charismatic mega-herbivore, the famously gregarious elephant.”

“This is a design improvement that’s also an important program improvement,” says Jackie Sticha, president of Como Friends. “Nothing makes you connect with nature quite as powerfully as seeing these animals right up close.”

Last fall, as construction wrapped up, Como Zoo’s giraffe herd took some tentative steps toward trying out the new attraction. “Pretty much everything in the wild wants to eat them so giraffes are very cautious in general,” says Nigon. One exception to the rule is Skeeter, Como’s 6-year-old male, who put his nose right into the public feeding station for a healthy treat of crispy romaine. “But Skeeter is very gregarious for a giraffe, very outgoing.”

This spring, Nigon and the other keepers are working to reinforce the positive first experiences the giraffes have had in their new multi-species terrain, introducing them to Ulysses the zebra and ostriches Pickles and Olive. “In the past, they were all separated into their own enclosures, but now they’ll be able to share a much larger space, just as they would in the wild,” says Nigon. “They’re not animals that would compete with each other for food, so we expect the transition to go pretty well.”

While Nigon expects giraffe cows Daisy and Clover to be a little stand-offish with the public this summer, he predicts that Skeeter will quickly become a crowd favorite. “The biggest reason these animals are here is to be an ambassador for their species, so having Skeeter out there and getting him comfortable with the public can help visitors get excited about giraffes,” says Nigon. “That little bond people feel with our herd really does a tremendous thing for their wild relatives. If we can spark someone to really want to do more to conserve these animals in the wild, then he’s really done his job.”

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