What’s not to love about giraffes? It has become a Girls In Science (GIS) annual tradition to visit the Zoo’s giraffe herd at the beginning of a semester. They are a lovely way to introduce new GIS participants to the program’s logistics and to some very important aspects of animal care. (Read Fall Is Here!)
One of the many important things the girls learn about on our trips to the Zoo is the concept of the Species Survival Plan, or SSP. The SSP is, in essence, computer dating for endangered species, and virtually all endangered species that reside in North American zoos or breeding facilities are managed using an SSP.
While the Zoo’s Masai giraffes are classed as “Low Risk” and the wild population is stable, there are several giraffe subspecies that are capable of interbreeding and producing viable offspring. Our goal is to keep the captive population of Masai giraffes as genetically healthy as possible, while also keeping them genetically pure. Hopefully, an asteroid won’t fall out of the sky and wipe out all the Masai giraffes in the wild, but if it does, we will have a perfectly maintained population to reintroduce into their native habitat!
Another concept that is introduced by our giraffes is that of “adaptation.” An adaptation is something about a plant or an animal that helps it to live the way it does. Giraffes have v-e-r-y long necks and legs, which allow them access to a food source that no other animal on the savanna can reach. They also have prehensile tongues, which they can use like hands to pull acacia leaves from the top of the trees where they browse. These adaptations ensure access to resources, therefore helping the giraffes to keep themselves fed and healthy.
The very best part of the visit, though, is simply getting to meet real, live, BIG giraffes face to face, and getting to feed them! Giraffes are one of those animals that look really large until you’re right up next to them, and then you see how truly gigantic they are! The crazy part: Masai giraffes are the shortest of all the giraffe subspecies! Others can top them by five or more feet!
Stop by to visit Abby, Silver, Bahati, Nikuru (also known as Nikki), Hodari, and our newest arrival, Travis, next time you’re at the San Diego Zoo.
Next stop: meerkats!
Cindy Spiva-Evans is an educator at the San Diego Zoo.
Girls In Science is a program for Roosevelt Middle School girls which creates science-based experiences with professional women at the San Diego Zoo. The program is funded through the generosity of the Wells Fargo Foundation.
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