NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — What animal has long legs, a long neck and a long tongue?
Surely, you guessed giraffe!
“The giraffe are very curious and are constantly trying to watch what the keepers and staff are doing behind the scenes,” says Jessica Knox as she points to the Nashville Zoo’s tower of giraffe.
Knox gives tours with the zoo’s backstage pass.
“A tower is a group of giraffe. We have a tower of four females here at the Nashville Zoo, and we have Masai giraffe. They are one of the tallest specie of giraffe found in Africa,” Knox says.
Visitors can see the majestic creatures up close with the “This is How We Zoo” tour.
“If you ever go up to the giraffe exhibit and see them hanging out in the very back of their yard, this is where they are looking,” Knox explains as she leads a group down a pathway behind the scenes.
Those on the tour get to go inside the giraffe barn. “They will get to see how they live, how we take care of them, the area we do our training,” Knox continues, “And, come up behind our exhibit and feed our giraffe just like what we are doing today.”
This year the zoo has welcomed three new female giraffe to join Nasha on the exhibit. The rookies still shy when it comes to greeting strangers, but not veteran, Nasha.
“What’s really fun is that giraffes actually learn from watching their elders. And so, the younger females are watching Nasha come up and eat,” Knox says. “They are slowly getting brave, and we’re hoping by the end of this summer, maybe next year they’ll be eating lettuce from our guests on our tours.”
Knox says giraffe are very unusual animals and have lots of unique characteristics.
“They actually sleep standing up, and they actually sleep only an average of 30 minutes per day. I don’t know how they do it,” she says. Knox adds that Congo, the male giraffe that recently passed away, used to sleep with his eyes open.
Giraffes also have an interesting anatomy. “They have a heart that weighs up to 25 pounds, and it is pumping 60 liters of blood through their body every second. That’s 16 gallons worth of blood.”
Knox continues, “They actually have seven cervical vertebrae, just like humans. It’s just that their neck bones are about the size of our skulls. So, they’re just nice and large.”
No two giraffe have the same spot patterns, which are also how they camouflage to hide from predators.
Additionally, Knox says, “Giraffe, just like cattle, are ruminants, which mean they have a four chamber stomach, and they do regurgitate their food and chew it for a second time.”
A lot of people know that giraffes have long 18-inch black tongues, but they don’t know why. “The reason why is that is melanin on their tongue to keep them from getting a sunburn because they are eating 23 hours out of the day.”
While Knox shares lots of fun facts about giraffes on the tour, she also lets people know how the zoo helps these animals in the wild.
“Now, they are currently a vulnerable species. There’s only about 32,000 Masai currently in Africa at this point in time,” she says.
Giraffe numbers are in decline because of a silent extinction. Meaning, no one really talks about the threats they face.
“They are hunted for their tail hair. It is used in ceremonial purposes, used to making fishing nets, fishing lines, jewelry, things like that,” she continues, “Also the poaching in rhinos and elephants, the poachers are taking down the giraffe, so they have the energy to trophy hunt the elephants and the rhinos.”
At Nashville Zoo the Masai giraffe are part of the Species Survival Plan breeding program. But, currently, they are on a waiting list for a male giraffe due to the recent passing of Congo.
“When they have babies, it is a very long wait for a giraffe calf.” Knox explains, “They are generally pregnant for about 15 months, and they give birth to about a 6 feet tall newborn baby. It’s a very large baby.”
Additionally the zoo donates money they receive from the backstage pass tour to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation in Africa.
“Giraffe are very important in Africa in their ecosystems, because a lot of animals will look to the giraffe to see if it’s safe to drink at the watering hole, since they can see really far around – over a mile around – with their height, so they can see any potential danger.”
News 2 has partnered with Nashville Zoo to bring you weekly segments of Zoopalooza. You can watch them on News 2 on Good Morning Nashville on Saturday and right here on WKRN.com.