The Garden City Telegram
4/3/2014
SOUTHWEST LIFE

Giraffe Encounters returning to zoo

Last year, Lee Richardson Zoo began having Giraffe Encounters for the public. This extremely popular event allowed guests to come up close to the giraffes by offering "keeper approved" food to the giraffes for a small cost. Now that the weather is finally beginning to warm up, we will be offering this opportunity again.

Visit Lee Richardson Zoo between 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. Saturday or Sunday and for just $2 an encounter or $5 for three encounters you can come up close to the world's tallest land animal. You also can receive a free feeding by purchasing an "I Fed The Giraffes" T-shirt from the Safari Shoppe. You will be amazed by the size of Shingo and Juani's head when you see them up close as they are pulling their food from your hands with their 18-inch-long tongue. This is a very special opportunity as public feeding of all animals at the zoo is restricted to Giraffe Encounters and the duck pond for the protection of the collection's health.

There are three main reasons visitors are not allowed to feed the animals outside of designated and controlled situations such as the Giraffe Encounter: to prevent injury to the guest and/or animal, to prevent the transfer of zoonotic disease between people and animals and to maintain the health of an animal. When you attract the attention of an animal with food, there can be a potential danger to the person feeding as feeding tends to excite some animals. They could become aggressive to the guest or other animals in the exhibit.

In addition to the safety of the guest, feeding incorrect foods also can be a major health issue for the animal. Humans carry many germs and feeding can transfer those germs to the animals. Transfer of germs aside, people rarely know what the animal actually eats. Zoos put a great deal of time and effort into determining the most healthy and natural diet for each of our animals. The wrong foods can cause choking, poisoning, obesity, fighting among exhibit mates and even death.

Did you know that many birds cannot process the iron in grapes and therefore will suffer liver damage? Did you know that chocolate has a compound in it that is poisonous to almost all other animals except humans? Did you know many plants defend themselves by creating poisons? Cherry, oak leaves, lima beans, onions and garlic are just a few of the many plants that can harm animals.

When you see zookeepers feeding branches and leaves, it is from an approved species that we know is not naturally toxic and has not been sprayed with pesticides. In addition, visitors are not aware which animals may have health issues such as obesity or diabetes. Our trained staff and volunteers account for all of these situations and can maintain a safe encounter for you and the animals.

So come on down this Saturday and Sunday between 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. to be one of the first this year to experience a wild encounter. Not only will you enjoy a rare opportunity, but your purchase also will support the care of the animals and assist in keeping Lee Richardson Zoo free to walk through. For future updates to Giraffe Encounters and other happenings at the zoo, visit our www.leerichardsonzoo.org or find us on Facebook.