Encounter with a Young Giraffe

Rachel Friedman

© Copyright 2021 by Rachel Friedman

Photo of a giraffe.

Did you know that some giraffes like to kiss people using their long tongues? I learned that fact when I was a small child. 

One of the lovely things about living in Los Angeles is that weíve got a great zoo. It's not quite as famous as the one in San Diego, but we still have a bird show, a petting zoo, and a secluded area for baby animals. During one memorable period, these baby animals included giraffes. 

The zoo doesnít like to hand-raise young animals. There's at least one large, prominent sign which they put out whenever the formal nursey is empty. It states that all of the young animals the staff came into contact with, regardless of whether they belong to the zoo or are part of the local wildlife, are being raised by their families. It adds that this should be the case whenever it is possible. I suppose that no number of comfortable blankets, padded cribs, or giant plush toys can make up for the continued absence of Mom. Of course, such luxuries have always been reserved for the smaller animals who are actually capable of fitting inside the bassinet.  

My sister and I loved seeing the baby animals. It wasnít just that they were extra cute; it was also that the whole area acted as a sort of miniature zoo for us really little kids. There was an interactive video, which, sadly, is gone now. There was also an exhibit with a series of wheels where kids could match up what animals ate and what they looked like as newborns. The wheel is still there, although their plastic coverings have been scratched into near illegibility from constant use. 

We were really excited to see the baby giraffe. Usually, when we got to see the giraffes, they were separated from us by a small hillock and a massive fence. If we wanted to see more than their upper bodies, we had to persuade our parents to pick us up. This enclosure only had two small chain-link fences.  

So, there we were, staring up at the baby giraffe, when she decided that we also looked interesting. I donít know if she was bored, mischievous, or just wanted to be friendly, but she decided that we could use a couple of tongue licks. Appararently giraffes do that with other giraffes. Itís a great way to give someone a neck scratch when you donít have hands. Maybe she thought that we looked itchy, who knows? 

Iím afraid that neither my sister nor I took it well. It was sweet of the giraffe to try to include us, but, as it turns out, giraffe tongues feel really slimy. We were just about accustomed to being licked by dogs, not things with enormous purple tongues. And if you donít believe that the baby giraffe could have reached us over a fence, with an additional space of several feet, well then, youíve clearly never seen a giraffeís tongue. Or a giraffeís neck, for that matter. Our initial reaction was to start shrieking and running. Apparently, the giraffe thought that this was part of a new game, so she started bounding around her enclosure too. She was a little uncoordinated, but with those long legs, she was at least as fast as we were. I think that she was probably quite disappointed when we finally left. 

After my mother had finally managed to stop laughing (I have to admit that it was pretty funny), she hauled us both over to the nearby bathrooms, where some water and paper towels got off most of the giraffe gunk. Needless to say, we both had to take showers when we got home. 

My mother did mention what had happened to a zookeeper. She wasnít alarmed by it, since nothing bad had actually occurred, but she thought that the people in charge might like to be notified about it anyway. The zookeeper looked surprised and alarmed, but he didnít say anything. I can only assume that this piece of information added to the staffís sense of relief when the baby giraffe no longer needed to be hand-reared. 

I suppose that itís strange, but after that experience the giraffe exhibit just wasnít as exciting as it used to be. It wasnít so much that I had enjoyed getting slobbered on, it was that at a certain distance the giraffes just didnít seem to pay that much attention to people. At some point, when you go to look at animals, you just really get a kick out of them looking back at you. I suppose that it says something about our egos that we would like to be considered more interesting than a fresh pile of hay or sheep guts. 

Fortunately, there is a solution of sorts, even if it does cost visitors an additional fee. If you show up at the right time, you can pay five dollars for the privilege of feeding some giraffes a total of three tiny eucalyptus twigs. The animals have no objection to receiving easy, if miniscule, snacks, and will wander quite willingly into the paddock. Mind you, they are far more interested in the eucalyptus than in the person who is holding it, but at least thatís something. Nobody has lost any fingers either, so itís all good. 

There are still young giraffes at the zoo. At least one of the females seems to have a baby every couple of years or so, but they usually donít seem to be allowed to go out on exhibit until theyíre old enough. Visitors make a fuss, but what they seem most interested in doing is following their mothers. I guess that when they grow up exclusively with other giraffes, the herd mentality can be instilled early. 

Nowadays, the zoo seems to draw the line at allowing large infant animals to stay in what is now known as the Childrenís Zoo. The pens are still there, but now they only seem to house adult animals which look rather like deer. Creatures that arenít big enough to be able to reach visitors through the fences. It may be safer, but itís rather less fun. 

I have recently embarked on a career as a freelance writer.  I have published a number of articles, most notably in Hack Library School magazine, Kitchen Witch and Preservation Foundation, Inc.   I live in Southern California with my family.

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