Abilene’s number one tourist attraction is expanding, and the growth is expected to draw an additional 20,000 visitors per year. The new 3.8 million Giraffe Safari exhibit opens Saturday, which doubles the space of the giraffes’ old habitat. It’ll also change the way visitors interact with the zoo’s popular residents.
In the past, visitors walked across a bridge that stretched above the giraffe habitat, where the animals could reach up and nibble a cracker right out of a visitors palm. Now instead of the bridge, visitors will make their way up a winding path to the top of a new structure, grab some romaine lettuce and feed one of the zoo’s six giraffes at eye-level.
“The big open area that you will first walk into is lots of wood, we have a realistic looking wooden ceiling it makes it really just feel like you’re in African in a lodge,” said Zoo Veterinarian Dr. Stephanie Carle.
Not only does the new Giraffe Safari exhibit offer visitors a new perspective, it also gives the animals much more space to roam freely. A few of the giraffes have been running around in their exhibit. They’ll also be getting a change in their diet because of the new environment.
“The new feeding deck is going to allow us to feed lettuce leaves instead of crackers that they used to get,” Carle said. “This is much healthier for them. In the wild giraffes would forage off of leaves and trees and that is what they would naturally eat.”
After hand-feeding African giraffes, staring at their spotted faces up close and watching their lanky bodies stride away, visitors can then turn their attention to other animals. Red river hogs, blue duikers, helmeted guineas and Marabou storks are all kept near the new terrace.
Abilene Zoo data patterns show that about 49 percent of guests come from around the region. Abilene is home to the only zoo between Fort Worth and El Paso and between Oklahoma City and San Antonio.