As the saying goes “home is where the heart is”, and Mystic, Ezeji, Luna, and Faye are four giraffes who delight daily in their home at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo: Using their tongues they munch on tasty leaves, as they explore their habitat, while the curious onlookers with big smiles let out the occasional “WOW”.
Have you ever seen a giraffe tongue up close? Measuring between 18-20 inches long, this lengthy tongue is perfect for grasping leaves from high trees! In the dry savannas and sunny Kenya, giraffe in the wild can eat up to 60 different plant species, mainly the acacia tree leaves. Here at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, the giraffe in our care eat nearly 7,000 heads of lettuce each summer. As part of their diet, giraffe are also offered a nice supply of alfalfa hay, and browse such as willow and high fiber grain lettuce. A tasty treat for these herbivores!
If you’ve been to Giraffe Platform, you have probably given a piece of lettuce to Mystic! As one of the more curious girls in the tower, Mystic spends the most amount of time greeting guests and crunching on lettuce. When Mystic is greeting guests, it looks as if she is smiling. Her giraffe smile, paired with the awe-moment of feeding a giraffe in person, Mystic has the power to make all guests feel a child-like wonder.
Luna, the half-sister to Mystic, was born on Earth Day, April 22nd, 2006. Standing 14.5 feet tall and weighing 1,530 pounds, Luna is sweet, a bit shy, and can often be spotted in the back of her habitat, keeping her belly full by eating native leaves. If she gets close enough to see up close, she is recognizable by the unique fold on her bottom lip, which gives her a constant toothy grin.
The youngest member of the Tower is Faye! Born on September 2, 2013, guests know this tall youngster by her small spots and very light fur. Faye can often be spotted in the back of her habitat with her friend, Luna. Just like Luna and Mystic, Faye enjoys filling her belly with alfalfa hay and leaves.
Ezeji, the only male giraffe in the tower, was born on December 30, 2009. His Zoo Keepers were stuck on what to name this little one before realizing this giraffe had a true love early on: Yams. His love of yams earned him the name Ezeji, which translates to “King of Yams”. This loveable King is dark in color with spots that run all the way down to his legs.
To keep the giraffe greeting and educating guests for years to come, they are trained in medical behaviors continuously to help us provide the best possible care. Here at the Zoo, we use target training paired with positive reinforcement. Target training is a very simple behavior: the animal is asked to touch a specific body part – frequently their nose – to an item that is designated as the “target”. For the giraffe, their “target” is a colored shape at the end of a long pole. Once the giraffe learns to touch their nose, they then can be taught to follow the target to move to certain locations, such as standing on a scale so we can measure their weight. As soon as the giraffe completes a behavior, they hear a whistle and are given a tasty treat to positively reinforce the behavior.
Next time you visit the Zoo, be sure to say hello to Mystic, Luna, Fae and Ezeji!
Written by Communications Intern, Onestini Jones