Giraffes have long, grey tongues! I learned this cool fact on Sunday during a preview of the Columbus Zoo's newest exhibit: Heart of Africa. We went to the preview celebration and enjoyed food, drinks, African music and dancing and had some awesome up-close encounters with animals.
The day was beautiful but people who worked on the exhibit explained that it was difficult to finish everything and get the animals into their new habitats early. The weather has been fairly brutal in Columbus with quite a bit of rain and very cold temperatures - even in May! Apparently the lions were just introduced to their home on the day of the preview event so they seemed nervous. Still, can you believe how gorgeous these big cats are? The exhibit is designed to allow patrons to watch them at a close (albeit safe) distance.
Jack Hanna, Director Emeritus of the zoo, was on hand to talk about his passion for Africa and give details on the unique features of the African exhibit. I appreciated his talk on why exhibits like this are important - education of course - but they also offers an opportunity for people who may never have the resources to go to Africa to see what the plains there look like as well as the animals that live there.
The best part of the day for me was standing eye to eye with the zoo's tallest animal. Zoo staffers stood with us offering lettuce that we could feed to the giraffes. The experience left me in awe of these odd looking creatures. Close up, their heads sort of resemble horses and their coats feel like a horse's as well but with shorter and finer hair.
The below photo shows how the exhibit is designed with a platform for feeding the animals.
The cheetah habitat was fascinating because the handlers told us about how the zoo raises their cheetahs: with domestic dogs. This is apparently because cheetahs are naturally skittish and when they are raised with dogs, they learn to be more laid back. For instance, if there is a loud noise, a cheetah would naturally startle and run (at 70 mph!) but a labrador would probably just look in the direction of the noise. If the dog isn't upset, the cheetahs are chill too. In the picture below, you can see the lab in the habitat with the cheetah.
These cats are so elegant and we were able to watch a demonstration where the cheetah chased after a toy that was pulled on a string in a large enclosure. It moved like a FLASH and was quickly given meat as a prize so it would drop the toy. Impressive!
Another handler brought out a 29 day old cheetah that was abandoned by a mother in another zoo. The cheetah director is rehabilitating the kitten. It is being raised with other young cheetahs and of course two dogs.