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In The Country

Long necking at the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve

Brandie Owens
Education Coordinator
Catoctin Wildlife Zoo

(Aug, 2011) Visitors to the verdant Catoctin Wildlife Preserve now have an exciting new star attraction to enjoy....a real live giraffe in Frederick County, Maryland! Booked for a limited time like a country music star this summer and fall only, Rocket the giraffe will provide another up close and personal experience for the zoo’s guests, thanks to the hard work of the zoo staff.

"Our mission is to bring people and animals together in a personal, interactive way. Rocket, reared by hand from a baby, is extremely people-friendly, reaching out with his nose to touch and sniff zoo guests. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we are excited to share," says Richard Hahn, executive director of the zoo.

Of all the charismatic animals that we see on television, in movies and books or for that matter on the African veldt, one of the top five would definitely be a Reticulated Giraffe. This statuesque mammal is the tallest of all the living animals. Even a two-year-old giraffe like Rocket is very impressive at 12 feet tall when you are standing on the ground next to him and he is reaching down with his 15-inch tongue to take treats from your hand.

Giraffes were once the gifts that sultans, emperors or kings would send to one another to impress each other with their wealth or power. Although the first giraffe arrived in England over 600 years ago, this one is only the second one ever at the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve in its 78- year history of providing a fun and educational opportunity for people who love animals. The only other giraffe exhibited was at the zoo as a temporary exhibit for several weeks in 1996.

Zoo Director Richard Hahn commented recently that one of the few zoo animals that people

routinely ask for on their exit surveys is the giraffe. But until now it has been a step beyond the zoo’s resources. And even now help is needed if Rocket is to become a permanent fixture.

"As part of the growing African section of the zoo along with the upcoming Black Wildebeest, African Giant Porcupine, Spotted Hyena, and Red Patas Monkey exhibits and the new Warthog exhibit and African Pygmy Goat feeding area, Rocket the giraffe, even as a temporary exhibit, will really liven up the area."

The Zoo staff began preparing for this in 1992 when the current master plan which included a giraffe exhibit was drawn up. More recently in 2008 a twenty-five-acre African section was begun with the opening of the Global Wildlife Safari ride. This guided tour from an army troop carrier called a deuce and a half through four six-acre paddocks in the back portion of the over 50-acre park quickly became an international safari with some African animals like Zebra, African Antelope and Ostrich being joined by North American Bison, Tibetan Yak, Asian Water Buffalo, Scottish Highland Cattle, Indian Nilgai, Asian Mouflon Sheep, European Fallow Deer, Australian Emu and South American Rhea, a veritable smorgasbord of hoofed animals and large flightless birds.

Giraffes, except for two subspecies, are not considered rare in the wild, but there are fewer than 1,500 in zoos worldwide and possibly less than 75,000 in the whole world all in the African wilds. This makes them a much more unusual zoo animal than a lion, tiger or bear. Because of the costs associated with providing for these large animals (a male giraffe can grow to almost 20 feet in height and 2,600 pounds), small zoos rarely display this species. The Catoctin Wildlife Preserve is a medium-sized zoo with well over 500 animals displayed and 50 of its 75 acres developed that would like to become better, but not necessarily bigger. However, expenses, feed, energy, insurance and labor have consistently risen while admissions have remained flat.

"We are fortunate that our income has held even in this recession, but with increasing expenses, we have to attract more people. If the giraffe helps us do that, all the work will have been worth it" says Hahn. "He is a total pussy cat. He can be led with a halter and even puts his head down for the halter. How cool is that? Although we would love to keep this particular giraffe because he is such a gem, I don't even want to think about it until I see the numbers. The costs of keeping him year round are double what we have already invested."

Every day, Rocket will eat the best alfalfa hay, up to 3% of his weight of specially ordered giraffe diet, and up to 100 pounds of fresh-cut browse.

Some fun facts about giraffes: part of a giraffe's scientific name, "camelopard" comes from the ancient Greek name referring to the similarity of its head to a camel and its pattern of spots to a leopard. Giraffes are the opposite of lions that lay around for 23 hours daily: giraffes sleep an average of less than five hours daily. The giraffe’s neck is half of its height, but its neck still has exactly the same number of bones as a bat or human's does, seven.

Special fundraisers will be held through November to attempt to raise the nearly $100,000 required to purchase, house and feed Rocket. The first fundraiser will be held Thursday, July 28th from 6-7:30pm when for a small donation, the public can feed, touch and be photographed with the 12- foot star. Please see our website for more information on this fundraiser.

The Catoctin Zoo, located 2 miles south of Thurmont, Maryland on U.S. Route 15 is also looking for sponsors that will support the additional costs of maintaining the giraffe permanently at the Wildlife Preserve. See or or call 301-271-3180 for information on how you or your business can help.

Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo in partnership with Global Wildlife Trust is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization. GWT strives to provide the highest level of competent care for its resident wildlife ambassadors and to support the conservation of their wild counterparts in unspoiled habitats. We are committed to this mission because we believe promoting harmonious coexistence of all species is our duty as stewards of the Earth.