I have this problem with always needing to touch stuff: usually things I’m not allowed to touch. (No, really. I ducked a security guard recently at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston so I could touch a 15th century Finnish tapestry. Before you send me angry letters, I’m fully aware of all of the reasons I shouldn’t have done that – but it was right there and six hundred years old. How could I resist?) I think it’s a combination of the allure of the forbidden and the desire to more fully experience things by accessing them in every way possible.
This is especially true with living things (delicate flowers, fresh tattoos). So when Roger Williams Park Zoo announced that they were rolling out a program where you could go behind the scenes – and inside the paddock – to feed the giraffes, I jumped at the opportunity: so quickly, in fact, that I ended up being the first non-zoo employee to have the experience (which was so awesome that I didn’t even mind getting giraffe drool in my face… but we’ll get to that in a minute).
The zoo has three giraffes, Amber, Sukari and Jaffa Prince. During my visit with them, I learned a lot of surprising information about the animals: they have the same number of vertebra in their necks as we do, but can bend them all the way back to touch the tops of their heads to their backs; they eat so much (75lbs of food per day) that their tongues are purple to avoid being sunburned; and that, despite their size, giraffes are surprisingly flighty animals. My first couple of attempts to feed them resulted in their galloping away and what I can only describe as “nervous peeing.” It makes sense – the running, not the nervous pee – because the flight response is a giraffe’s main defense in the wild. Clearly I was leonine in my predatory-looking maxi dress.
Finally, after some coaxing from the zookeepers that sounded a lot like how you talk to babies, Sukari was brave enough to come close and eat from my bucket of food. Just as she leaned in close, closer, closer… a gust of wind came up, blowing the drool away from her chin and directly across my face. But being so close to such a gigantic, beautiful creature completely cancelled out any amount of upset that I normally would have been about it. I didn’t get to pet her (which was, if we’re being honest here, the worst thing to ever happen, ever) but my companion did get to feed her leaves from branches. The whole thing was amazing; we couldn’t stop talking about it for days. It was the best kind of walk on the wild side.