Browsing with the giraffes
Hey guys! Nadia here from the Hoofstock Team. While you’re browsing through Zoo Atlanta’s social media, I’m going to tell you about a whole new meaning of browse – giraffe style! Giraffes spend about 75% of their day eating (same, am I right?). Giraffes are known as mega browsers, meaning that they eat leaves, buds and occasionally bark from trees and shrubs. The term “browse” refers to the trees and shrubs that they eat.
A giraffe’s dexterous tongue ranges from 18-20 inches long, which is extremely useful for grabbing onto branches and pulling them into a giraffe’s mouth.
With a giraffe spending about 75% of its day eating, this amounts to about 75 pounds of browse every single day. Here at Zoo Atlanta, we try to mimic natural behaviors as closely as possible. This means that when we aren’t cleaning and training, you can almost guarantee that the animal care professionals are behind the scenes searching for yummy browse, like honeysuckle, to be harvested. The Zoo also has a team of horticulture specialists who deliver browse to various departments around the Zoo every single day.
A common misconception is that a tree is a tree, and giraffes can eat them all! Actually – a lot of tree species are toxic to animals if eaten. The Zoo’s Veterinary and Horticulture Teams work together to identify which species of browse are toxic, and which species of tree are safe to eat. Another surprising fact is that giraffes have preferential favorites among browse species. For example, during the winter months when our Georgia trees don’t have any leaves left, we ship in boxes of acacia (a tree famous for attracting wild giraffes in Africa) from Florida. However, these Georgia giraffes are just not as crazy about it as the wild ones are. The same goes for oak – it’s just not the Zoo’s three giraffes’ favorite species. Mulberry and elm trees, however, are the giraffe’s absolute favorite. They will spend hours munching on the leaves and then stripping every piece of bark off of the branch.
In conclusion – giraffes are picky eaters and we love them for it! When a Giraffe Care Team member is on vacation, one thing I think we all have in common is that we catch ourselves looking at the trees nearby and thinking “Ooh, I wish I could take a few branches back with me. This is a delicious looking tree.” That’s not weird, right?
Keeper I, Mammals