Feeding a giraffe is no longer a stretch in Mississippi. Zoo offers new animal encounter.
Published 6:15 am Saturday, November 20, 2021
One of the Hattiesburg Zoo’s newer members, Sue Ellen the giraffe, waited eagerly at the feeding platform Nov. 9 as guests lined up to treat her with lettuce and carrots.
Sue Ellen, who is about 18 to 23 years old, lowered her nearly six-foot-long neck so she was eye to eye with visitors. The children laughed and commented on the giraffe’s long tongue as she used it to grab the pieces of food they shared with her.
Anyone who has ever wanted to get up close and personal with the tallest animal in the world now has the chance via Hattiesburg Zoo’s giraffe-feeding experience.
Though a giraffe diet consists mostly of alfalfa hay and specially formulated grain, the food Sue Ellen receives at the feeding platform — lettuce, carrots and browse, including oak, bamboo and sweet gum — is a special treat.
“Carrots are her favorite. She’ll stand here all day for you if you have enough carrots,” Hattiesburg Zoo giraffe keeper Rachel Grimm said.
“It’s definitely a treat. It’s not a regular diet for them,” added Kristen Moore, Hattiesburg Zoo general curator.
Sue Ellen’s keepers said although she will accept food from almost anyone, children are her favorite visitors.
While Sue Ellen is happy to take treats from guests’ hands, her daughter Alberta, or Bertie, as the keepers call her, is a bit more standoffish.
Grimm explained that when the giraffes first arrived at the Hattiesburg Zoo from the Audubon Species Survivor Center, they were nervous and not used to being around a lot of people. Sue Ellen eventually became comfortable with taking food from strangers.
“Giraffe are a nervous species to begin with, and (Bertie) just wants to take her own time, and that’s ok. Just making sure she feels comfortable enough to do it when she does,” Moore said.
While she may not take food directly from guests, Bertie is known to stand behind Sue Ellen at the feeding platform, like a child behind its mother’s apron, and observe closely.
Grimm and Moore said reaction to the feeding experience, which began Nov. 2, has been positive. The giraffe feeding has been sold out almost every day.
The addition of the feeding platform was made possible by a donation from the Duhon family, who are from Hattiesburg.
In May, 10-year-old CeCi Duhon donated her award-winning, mixed-media painting “Giraffe” to the zoo to honor the arrival of Sue Ellen and Bertie.
“The Hattiesburg Zoo is such a treasure to our family, and we have enjoyed seeing it expand and flourish over the years, said Justice Duhon. “We were delighted they contacted us to acquire Cecilia’s giraffe piece, and it’s been heartwarming to see the community’s support of her and our zoo.”
After gifting her painting to zoo staff, CeCi was able to feed browse to the giraffes during her visit.
“When we saw the joy it brought CeCi to feed Sue Ellen, we knew that we wanted every guest to have the opportunity to make that connection with these majestic animals,” said Jeremy Cumpton, director of conservation, education and wildlife at the Hattiesburg Zoo.
CeCi Duhon’s painting has been re-created on Hattiesburg Zoo T-shirts and postcards, and are available for purchase at the gift shop.
WANT TO FEED A GIRAFFE? HERE’S HOW
The giraffe-feeding experience takes place every day the zoo is open at 2 p.m. There are 15 tickets available per day, which cost $5. Everyone except children under age 2 is required to have a ticket to be on the feeding platform. Children under 2 must be held at all times by an adult. Tickets must be purchased the same day as the guest feeding.
The zoo is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.