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Sky-High Enrichment for Giraffe Family

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications

Giraffe calf Misawa browsing. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Giraffes are the tallest browsers in the world, reaching up to the tip-top of acacia trees on the African savanna. The acacia leaves themselves are packed with water, so the giraffes can go a long time without drinking. In the wild, giraffes spend most of their day nibbling on these leaves, a slow process because they can only grab a few leaves in each bite. They can eat up to 75 pounds of leaves in a single day. That is a lot of browsing! At the zoo, keepers provide our giraffes with special, sky-high enrichment in their indoor barn to encourage their browsing instinct. We stopped by the giraffe barn on a soggy spring day to check out some of their indoor activities.

Our video host, Jordan Veasley, spoke with keeper Katie Ahl about the importance of recreating the wild browsing experience. In the video below you can see Katie and Jordan prepare bucket enrichment for the giraffes. Then Katie asks Jordan to participate in a high-level zookeeper activity, which Katie calls “being the tree.”

If you look closely you can see the sticky saliva that assists the giraffes in coating any thorns they might swallow, allowing them to digest the prickles without injuring their gut. Their tongues are extremely dexterous, able to reach the most elusive leaf. You can see they are a dark color too, helping protect the tongue from harsh sunlight; after all it is exposed for a majority of the day.

Our three giraffes, including baby Misawa, spend some of their time indoors when it is very rainy. The majority of their time is spent outdoors on the savanna with zebra, ostrich, gazelle and oryx. 

Giraffes at Woodland Park Zoo dine on acacia leaves, hay, carrots, lettuce and special biscuits. Want to make a people version of giraffe enrichment? Try this giraffe-inspired summer salad recipe!

Giraffe Summer Salad


  • 3 cups of kale and butter lettuce (chopped or shredded)
  • ½ cup shredded carrots
  • ¼ cup raisins 
  • ¼ cup pistachio nuts (crushed or whole)
  • Handful of your favorite veggies such as cucumber or red bell peppers, sliced thinly 
  • 2 cups black-eyed peas (cooked)

For the dressing:

  • ¼ teaspoon minced ginger
  • ¼ cup minced onions
  • 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1 serrano pepper (chopped in tiny bits)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice
  • Pinch of sea salt

Stir together dressing ingredients, be sure to crush the cilantro and pepper (using a mortar and pestle if you have one). Toss the mix over the salad. For a real giraffe enrichment experience, you can place the salad in a tree, but we recommend finding a sunny picnic spot instead. Enjoy!