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Majestic giraffes arrive

By Sasha Harrinanan Thursday, December 5 2013

The Emperor Valley Zoo in Port-of-Spain has two new stars and they are impressive indeed.

They are two male Somali giraffes, approximately eight-months-old, weighing 1,200 pounds each and eight to nine feet tall.

Though not brothers, the animals were born one month apart at the Safari Enterprises Nature Park in Boerne, outside San Antonio, Texas. Their bond and the fact that a previous attempt in June to import a single giraffe didn’t go well, prompted zoo officials to bring in these two together rather than have one lonely giraffe awaiting the arrival of a female at some point in the future.

The as-yet unnamed animals weren’t alone on their four-hour journey yesterday from Miami to Trinidad. Accompanying them in an Amerijet International wide-bodied cargo plane were two warthogs. The animals were made famous in the 1994 movie “The Lion King”, which featured Pumbaa the warthog, half of the singing duo, Timon and Pumbaa.

The male and one female warthogs, about eight-months-old and weighing between 60 to 80 pounds each, can now be viewed in their open-air enclosure, located next to the zoo’s Reptile House.

Zoo Curator, Nirmal Bipta, said the arrival of the giraffes and warthogs “is probably one of the biggest acquisitions for Emperor Valley Zoo ever.”

“This is the first time these animals are ever going to be on display in this part of the world. Nobody else has them so it’s really a big thing for the zoo and the people of Trinidad and Tobago,” said Bipta.

The cost? An estimated $500,000 for the giraffes and $100,000 for the warthogs while the zoo’s African Exhibit will cost an estimated $20 million to complete.

The zoo hopes to see a sustained surge in visitors to pay for the animals’ arrival. Adults pay $20 each while children $10, which one zoo official noted is a much more affordable way to spend time with the family than a trip to the movies.

The animals began their journey with a 40-day quarantine at Safari Enterprises before embarkiing on a six-day journey last Friday with an over-land trip from Texas to Miami followed by a flight to Trinidad. They spent the majority of that time in wooden crates, which is probably why when the feistier of the two giraffes was released, he literally bolted from the crate and over a wooden ramp meant to lead him to their temporary enclosure.

Nicknamed “Bolt” by some reporters yesterday, the young male bounded up to the area where his permanent home will be– the African Exhibit, which is currently under construction. The giraffes are expected to move in there in three to four weeks.

President of the Zoological Society of TT (ZSTT), Gupte Lutchmedial, immediately called out for everyone to step back out of the animal’s sight while he tried to coax it back to the enclosure using some Alfalfa hay that was handed to him by Bipta.

After about 20 minutes, the giraffe made his way into the enclosure and soon after began urinating. This took a few minutes, which was likely due to how long the animals had been inside the crates. He then ate some of the imported alfalfa before exploring the covered portion of his new home.

Zoo officials then turned their attention to moving the crate containing ‘giraffe #2” to the ramp leading to the enclosure. Although he was described as being more laid-back and people-friendly, Lutchmedial and Bipta took no chances and made sure his crate was positioned so that it opened directly into the enclosure.

The second giraffe spent a few minutes relieving his bladder before he too had some alfalfa from the circular feeding trough about six feet above a pole placed close to the covered area of the enclosure. Their temporary home also has a waist-high concrete tub of water and another concrete tub of branches from an Acacia tree — their primary source of food in the wilds of Africa.

The animals will also be given a nutrient-rich feed to ensure they have a balanced diet.

Unlike the other star attractions at the zoo – three brother lions who arrived back in January, visitors will be able to physically interact with the giraffes.

Lutchmedial explained how this would work. “We are building a feeding station by their permanent enclosure. You’ll be able to walk out and feed them. We’ll be selling the feed so that will help us with the cost of bringing them in and maintaining them.”

The giraffes were seen grooming each other and standing close together yesterday afternoon, which elicited oohs and ahhs from the children and adults present. Giraffes are herd animals, so this type of behaviour is normal.

Many persons said they had chosen to visit the zoo specifically to see the giraffes and their excitement at being able to do so was unmistakable.

Tourism Minister Chandresh Sharma was among those on hand to witness the animals’ arrival at midday yesterday.

When asked if he felt nervous when the first giraffe jumped the railing, Sharma said, “No. When I was a child, we used to rear cows, so I’m familiar with this kind of environment.”

The public will not only get to feed the giraffes, they will also get to name them and the two warthogs. Over the next two weeks, visitors can submit their name choices, along with their admission ticket stub, into a box that will be placed near to the entrance. The winner/s will get free admission to the zoo for a year.

Meanwhile, ‘Sarp’ the Anaconda snake is “doing good” in a larger enclosure. Bipta told Newsday the reptile was moved to her new home on Divali (November 2) and subsequently ate her first meal since arriving at the zoo about 11 months ago— a duck. Sarp was captured by security guards in Caroni as she was attempting to slither across a road to the compound they were guarding.

Sarp’s new home is next to the agouti enclosure. In fact, the zoo partitioned the original enclosure to give the snake much-needed room.

“She was quite fat when she arrived and it’s not unusual for snakes not to eat for months at a time after a large meal,” Bipta noted.

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