I think giraffes are cool. Part of a diverse clade of large mammals called ungulates, they use the tips of their toes to sustain their entire body weight while moving. Giraffes are the tallest living terrestrial animals, and chew their cud like cows. Their name refers to the camel-like shape and leopard-like coloring. I had a close encounter with a couple of these ungulates last spring.
My daughter, Zoe, and I were visiting relatives in La Quinta when we decide to check out the nearby Living Desert Zoo & Gardens. Throughout Zoe’s life we’d been members of and visited many zoos and animal parks throughout the United States. One of the highlights of these diverse establishments was watching and sometimes participating in feeding the animals. Over the years we’ve hand fed, buffalo, elephants, deer, llamas, emus, and a variety of other critters. So when we saw the giraffe feeding times listed in the Living Desert brochure, we timed our walking tour to be at their pen at the right time.
I couldn’t imagine how one would actually feed a Giraffe, but as we approached their area, I was delighted to see how close we were going to be to the gentle giants. The Giraffes were in a pen that was lower than the surrounding area. A raised wooden platform with railing gave them easy access to whoever was standing on it.
My heart pounded as Zoe and I climbed the stairs and waited our turn. Volunteers handed out fresh carrots and said if we kept our backs to the rails, they’d take pictures of us feeding the giraffes. We thought that was a great idea, so we faced the volunteers, backed up to the rail, and each held up a carrot.
Immediately two huge heads loomed over us and whisked the carrots away with long nimble tongues. Startled at first, Zoe and I shrieked with laughter as the two creatures continued foraging from our hands. They moved with graceful intent focused entirely on getting as many carrots as possible. Their large furry heads were just inches from my face and I was thrilled, albeit a little intimidated.
When Zoe ran out of carrots the two giraffes ganged up on me. I was in full encounter mode by then and fearlessly offered the remaining tidbits with joy. Zoe thought it was hysterical.
Feeding giraffes by hand was an amazing experience, and I loved sharing it with my adventurous daughter.
Of the even-toed ungulates such as cattle, pigs, giraffes, camels, deer and hippopotamuses, I definitely have a soft spot for giraffes!