MAKING THEMSELVES AT HOME: Melman and his yet-to-be-named companion feed on plant leaves at the Emperor Valley Zoo yesterday. The giraffes arrived following a long journey from Texas to Miami then to Trinidad. —Photo: ISHMAEL SALANDY

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Giraffes here, at last

By Carla Bridglal carla.bridglal@trinidadexpress.com

The long-awaited arrival at the Emperor Valley Zoo yesterday of Melman the giraffe started with a bang—literally.
The youngster was so excited to be free of his travelling crate that when it was opened to release him into his new enclosure, he bolted through a plywood barricade that had been set up to prevent him from wandering off course.
He wasn’t hurt, nor were any of the curious onlookers — mainly media and zoo staff. He was lured back on to the right path by Zoological Society (ZSTT) president Gupte Lutchmedial and zoo curator Nirmal Biptah, who enticed him with a tasty treat of alfalfa hay — one of the giraffes’ diet staples.
After a long journey from Texas to Miami and then to Trinidad, Melman calmed down and proceeded to explore his new, albeit temporary home. His travelling companion — another male giraffe who doesn’t have a name yet—joined him a short while later, this time without all the excitement. Two warthogs who made the trip to Trinidad with the giraffes also made their debut at the zoo yesterday.
The animals arrived yesterday morning and are part of the zoo’s Africa exhibit, which is currently under construction. They are to be joined soon by two impala and some chimpanzees.
“This is a historic moment for us because this is the first time we have the species in the region. We are very happy to have them here,” ZSTT board member and veterinarian Dr Annmarie Hosein said.
The six-month-old unrelated pair belong to a subspecies of giraffe called reticulated giraffes after the net-like pattern of their coat, consisting of dark brown spots outlined in white. This subspecies is among the most popular in zoos across the US.
This first week will be the most important because this is the period for them to acclimatise and get accustomed to their new environment and handlers, added zoo veterinarian Dr Vandanaa Baboolal. When they become more familiar with being surrounded by zoo patrons, Baboolal said the public will be allowed to participate in feeding.
“Right now we just want them to be as comfortable as possible,” she said.
The animals were sourced by John Seyjagat, ZSTT international director and curator of the Australian Exhibit at the Baltimore Zoo in Maryland, USA.
He said they both have distinctive personalities.
Both giraffes were born in captivity but Melman is a little bigger because he spent more time with his mother. He likes people, Seyjagat said, but he doesn’t like people crowding his personal space so he can tend get a little feisty. His friend is more easy-going, mellow and friendlier to people.
“Giraffes are big but they can be a bit clumsy so they aren’t much of a threat to people. They are generally docile creatures but they can do damage because of their size and by stomping,” he said.
He said one of the advantages of sourcing animals so young is that they can grow with the keepers, who will also be unfamiliar with the species, so both the animals and the keepers can learn about each other together.
He added that the Emperor Valley Zoo is one of the leading zoos in the region in terms of collection, management and welfare of exotic animals.
“As a result it is important for us to show the rest of the southern hemisphere that we have the expertise and are leaders in caring for these exotic animals,” he said.
Tourism Minister Chandresh Sharma visited the zoo to welcome its newest residents.
“This is a singular moment for Trinidad and Tobago. Not many people have the opportunity to see these animals. Zoos are important places of learning for children and an inexpensive form of entertainment for families. With these new arrivals, I was excited and I’m sure children will be too,” he said.
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