Giraffes love lettuce.
In fact, they love it enough to come right up to you, deploy their long black tongues and snatch a leaf out of your hand.
Giraffe Encounter is the Denver Zoo's latest feature, and it officially opened its doors on Monday. For $5, visitors can buy three leaves of lettuce to feed to one or more of the zoo's four giraffes: male Dikembe and females Heshimu, Masika and Kipele. There are two locations from which to feed them: an elevated deck that puts visitors nose-to-nose with the zoo's tallest animals, or a ground-level platform that entices the giraffes to bend their long necks over the fence in order to reach the leafy snacks.
"We want you to connect with these beautiful animals so you care about their existence," zoo president Shannon Block said at a short opening ceremony — and media sneak peek — on Monday.
Giraffe Encounter will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day. Visitors can pay to feed the giraffes during three one-hour time periods: 10 to 11 a.m., 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Or, as Brittany Frederick, the zoo's guest engagement manager, says, "until their tummies get full." Zookeepers figure it will take about eleven heads of romaine lettuce per hour to do that. The giraffes will also have access to their regular food, including alfalfa — so whether they partake of the lettuce is totally up to them.
City councilman Albus Brooks attended Monday's event with his two young daughters, Kaya and Kenya. He called the zoo the "jewel of the city" and predicted that the new feature would be a hit.
Giraffe Encounter is sponsored by six local Toyota dealerships. The zoo's flagship exhibit, the $50 million Toyota Elephant Passage, was also sponsored by the dealers.
"For the first time in over 118 years, you can feed giraffes at the Denver Zoo," Block said.
"Let's get this party started!"
Continue to see more photos of cameramen (!) and children feeding giraffes, as well as a video.
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