Their eyes are the size of golf balls – all the better to effortlessly peer into second-story windows! They’re giraffes, the long-necked, long-tongued lookouts of the African savanna, grasslands and open woodlands. And visitors to Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens in Sanford can now feed them on their visits.
The zoo recently welcomed two males - Rafiki and Emba - to a brand new custom habitat. Rafiki (which means “friend” in Swahili), a two-year-old reticulated giraffe who’s moved to Sanford from Loxahatchee’s Lion Country Safari, is delighted with 19-year-old Emba as his new roommate. Emba comes from White Oak Conservation Center in Yulee. He’s a Rothschild’s giraffe who plans to enjoy quiet retirement (he was a former breeder) and a hand-fed buffet alongside his new buddy.
Salad bar's open: New roommates Rafiki and Emba compete for a visitor's carrot. — Photo courtesy of Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens
“Giraffes are popular zoo animals, and we are excited to add these animals to our collection,” said Joe Montisano, the zoo’s CEO. “One of our goals is to educate our guests of all ages and to make the zoo experience a memorable one.”
The giraffe-feeding program kicked off last month. Visitors are invited to feed Rafiki and Emba every day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at a $5 cost. Natural herbivores, the zoo’s giraffes eat hay, fruit and grains – and also browse from plants found on the property. Oak leaves, in particular, are a lofty and tasty treat. Visitors will give them carrots and other goodies to supplement their diets.
Keepers will be on hand to educate visitors, as well, whether they’re interested in an up-close encounter with the giraffes’ formidable black tongues or not. Though Emba and Rafiki have no such concerns, giraffes often act as multi-species “lookouts” in their natural habitat.
“Since they can easily spot predators, other animals often watch the giraffes,” says Brenda New, the zoo’s business communication manager. “Once they start to run, everyone else does, too.”
The height of friendship: Rafiki and Emba — Photo courtesy of Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens
With legs that average six feet in length (Babies are actually born at about that size!), it’s not surprisingly that its fellow prey animals look to them for the tip-off. Once fully grown, however, giraffes have very few predators save lions, crocodiles and humans.
Also on tap at the zoo this spring is the Hippity Hop Adventure (April 19-20). Kids can hop along an adventure trail to find clues that lead to the Easter Bunny. Live music, a bounce house and other treats will be on hand, and several egg hunts (separated into age-appropriate groupings) will be held, as well.