Singer/songwriter Paul Simon must have been thinking of the Racine Zoo back in 1967 when he wrote:
It's all happening at the zooCouldn't be more true, in fact. We've got four new lion cubs, a new tur, four baby meercats and, just this week, two new arrivals that everyone has to look up to: a couple of young giraffes.
I do believe it
I do believe it's true
We knew the giraffes were coming from a story last week on a Cleveland blog that said the Cleveland Zoo was sending two of its giraffes on a road trip, one to Wisconsin and another to Kentucky, all part of efforts by the International Species Information System (ISIS) to maximize the gene pool and breed healthy animals from the U.S.'s limited population of these animals, who came originally from North Tanzania or South Kenya in Africa.
Cleveland's loss is our gain. They sent papa giraffe Walker, an 18-ft. tall Masai who had fathered 11 calves while in Cleveland, to Louisville, and his son, Mac, a 14-ft. tall youngster -- he'll be three in August -- to Racine. At the same time, we received Bosephus from Louisville; he's another male, who will be four in July.
Meanwhile, the game of giraffe genetics musical chairs sent Twiga, the female giraffe who's been here since 2002, to the Ellen Trout Zoo in Lufkin, Texas. Twiga, by the way, is Swahili for "giraffe." She brought a calf with her when she came to Racine.
All these moves were overseen by Laurie Bingaman Lackey, the wildlife biologist with ISIS who is the custodian of the reproductive history of all 68 living Masai giraffes in North America. It is she who will decide in two or three years whether Racine will get a female giraffe from some other zoo to mate with one of our males, or whether one of ours will go somewhere else. Racine does not "own" any of these giraffes. "We are just the caretakers," said Jay Christie, director of the Racine Zoo. Walker and Twiga originally came from the San Diego Zoo.
Racine has room for just two adult giraffes and one youngster, Christie says.
For the moment, the two giraffes are being held in quarantine, their fecal matter continually tested for parasites and disease. Cydney Peterson, the zoo's animal care specialist in charge of the two new arrivals ("But I don't look at their poo -- it's not my job," she says emphatically.) is busily involved in socializing the two animals, who have very different personalities.
"Bosephus was hand-raised, socialized with people," she says. "Given a choice, he follows a person not another giraffe. Bo is a people-lover." And, indeed, when visitors to their pens came close to the railing, Bosephus stuck his head over and gently nuzzled an offered hand. Mac, in contrast, was visibly unsettled and nervously paced at the far end of his pen.
The two will be kept separate for 30 days, although individually they will be let out into the zoo's outdoor enclosure for public viewing starting on Monday.
More excitement is coming to the zoo this summer. Christie says two female zebras are due here shortly, from Peoria. And on July 30, the zoo will open its new restaurant, gift shop and admissions area, now under construction at the south end of the campus. The $2.2 million project was financed with $250,000 from Racine County, $300,000 from the city and the rest from donations from the business community and zoo members.
Here's a picture of Jay Christie in front of the new gift shop.