Mealtime fun for Zoo's tallest connoisseurs

14 July 2021

Sorry, mum! Zookeepers at Werribee Open Range Zoo are allowing the Zoo’s five male giraffes to ignore common table manners and, instead, are encouraging them to spend mealtime playing with their food.

The Zoo’s dedicated team of volunteers prepare a selection of tongue-twisting enrichments to encourage the natural dexterity of the giraffes’ prehensile tongues and lips.

In the wild, a giraffe’s meal can be slippery, spikey or just plain hard to reach, leading the towering critters to forage for some 13 hours-a-day.

Werribee Open Range Zoo Savannah Keeper Laura Harbridge said tricky treats are incredibly helpful in keeping the animals engaged with their food for longer and leads to greater overall health.

“Our five giraffes have plenty of space to roam here, which is a major benefit of the savannah habitat,” Ms Harbridge said. “We set up their favourite feeding tree with a number of food-based activities that encourage natural behaviours, which help to keep their mind and bodies active.

“Today, our team of volunteers made ice block ‘mushrooms’ with molasses and lucerne chaff. We also hung watermelon, beetroot, carrot and pumpkin ice blocks from the tree and made some melon mines and pumpkin bombs.”

Giraffe tongues are blue thanks to a concentration of melanin, which provides extra protection against sunburn, can measure up to 50 centimetres long and are used to grasp branches and strip leaves. Their lips also have the ability to curl around to help seize browse and greenery.

Conservation of giraffes is extremely important as wild populations continue to decline due to habitat destruction and illegal poaching.