Our planet orbits around the sun on a tilted axis; because of this, areas are exposed to the sun in different amounts throughout the year. For the Northern Hemisphere, exposure to the sun increases during June and is at its peak during the summer solstice. We’ll be celebrating the summer solstice, which is the longest day of the year, with the animals at the zoo with the longest necks, on Saturday, June 22nd from 1:30 to 4:30 for World Giraffe Day.

Giraffes are the tallest mammals on Earth, able to reach twenty feet in height. A giraffe’s legs are usually taller than most adult humans, and while their necks are the longest, they have the same number of neck vertebrae as humans. The seven vertebrae of a human’s neck are small and compact, while a giraffe’s vertebrae can reach over ten inches in length. Their long limbs and necks are adapted to give them many advantages, including the ability to reach high into acacia trees for their favorite leaves, keep an eye out for predators, and even attract a mate.

Male giraffes, (called bulls) will battle other males for mates or territory in a behavior known as “necking”; they will butt their heads and necks together until one bull concedes to the other. Giraffes will also use their necks to fend off predators. A giraffe’s neck and head can weigh over 600 pounds! The horn-like protuberances on their heads are known as ossicones. Ossicones are like horns of cattle, except they develop from cartilage instead of bone. The giraffe will swing their head like a pendulum into an attacking predator slamming their pointed ossicones in for the most damage.

Thanks to their unique appearance and behavior, giraffes have been a favorite animal for many. Despite their popularity, giraffes are facing what is known as a silent extinction. Within the last 30 years, giraffe populations have gone from 155,000 to 97,0000 according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). There are nine subspecies of giraffe; the zoo is home to three reticulated giraffes, which are now listed as endangered by the IUCN. The primary threat to giraffes and all wildlife is habitat loss.

Visit our family of giraffes on Saturday, June 22nd to learn more about this amazing species and how we can stick our necks out for giraffes and help ensure a future for giraffes. Enjoy an animal encounter from 1:30 to 2:30. Encounters allow guests to purchase an opportunity to feed (keeper approved food) the giraffes keeper approved food and safely interact with one of the giraffes up close under the guidance of zoo staff and volunteers. Feel real ossicones or see how long a giraffe tongue is and observe other awesome adaptations at a Discovery Cart from 2:00 to 4:00. Learn about what it takes to care for the world’s tallest animal straight from the source during a Keeper Chat at 4:00.

For more information about World Giraffe Day, please visit our website at www.leerichardsonzoo.org, give us a call at 620-276-1250 or email us at zoo.education@gardencityks.us.


Emily Sexson is conservation education manager at Lee Richardson Zoo.