Giraffe encounters or feeding experiences make a normal day at the zoo exceptional. There is a certain elegance and mystery surrounding these regal inhabitants of the Sahara.
So if you have small children in your life no doubt have from time to time been required to make animal sounds while sharing a book or story. Lions “RRRoaRRR” chimpanzees appear to laugh “ooh, ooh, augh, augh” but what do you say when you turn to a page with a giraffe?
Even if the mystery of what sound giraffes make is not solved, giraffe encounters or feeding experiences will be memorable. Here’s why.
When nurturing young children there is no substitute for being there even if you don’t speak the language and that applies to penguins, seals, goats, and a variety of interactive wild life experiences offered by zoos. I have found that with giraffes it’s really all about eye contact not just their amazing tongue action.
Giraffe feeding opportunities are now available at dozens of zoos across the country. Not surprising no two experiences will be the same because giraffes have their own personality quirks. I have noticed locations have their own style of communication with participants. Some zookeepers offer facts and suggestions while others, Reid Park Zoo in Tucson and Oklahoma City Zoo, actively engage youngsters in the experience, posing questions and answering questions.
The calming experience has the potential to become a vacation highlight and certainly memorable. Like any interactive experience, the degree of success depends not just on the zookeeper but also the advanced information set up by parents. For example in the case of giraffes the tongue is long, very long and black which may be alarming to an unsuspecting participant of any age. Size and gangling movements which appear non-threatening at a distance intimidate when up close.
From our most recent giraffe encounter my five-year-old grandson learned that giraffes spend most of their time each day browsing for food, munching on leaves, flavorful plants, and bark from trees. Giraffes have a bony ridge instead of top front top teeth and a tongue which is capable of grasping, described as prehensile for vocabulary builders.
My grandson had two questions after patiently listening. How many spots do they have? He is in to counting everything. And, can giraffes kiss? I think he did not wish to be kissed or maybe he did. Our shared experience made a lasting impression on both of us. We are looking forward to meeting penguins in Tampa or maybe manta rays in Dallas.
If a zoo adventure is in your future and your zoo of choice offers giraffe time, just do it. Before the big day, I suggest acquiring a book about giraffes beforehand. A terrific, most enjoyable read is Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae with illustrations by Guy Parker-Rees. It is slightly silly yet inspirational for a young mind. And is a great set up for a zoo adventure. And because we all need to see the humor in situations, Shel Silverstein classic (from my children’s early days), Giraffe and a Half is enjoyable for all ages.
No need to speak giraffe, all you have to do is show up and listen.
Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files.