The animals are ready for the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s Heart of Africa exhibit, although the grounds are still under construction.
Members of the media were recently invited to feed romaine lettuce to giraffes and apples to a black rhino, as Zoo officials talked about the 43-acre section of property designed to recreate Africa.
“This gives us the ability to showcase 140 beautiful animals,” said Zoo President and CEO Tom Stalf. Although giraffes had been missing at the Zoo the past eight years, Stalf said, “We always had an intention of bringing them back, but we wanted to tell the complete story.”
This past winter, 11 giraffes were housed in a custom-built barn and got used to docents feeding them. When Heart of Africa opens, visitors will be able to feed the giant herbivores at certain times.
“It’s so exciting to get close and feed an animal,” Stalf said.
Visitors will also get closer to black rhinos. Currently, the rhinos are separated from the public by fence and glass. When the exhibit opens, they visitors be mere feet from the endangered animals.
“By nature, they don’t tolerate large groups,” zookeeper Harry Peachey said of the rhino. “They’re a beautiful animal, but they need our help to survive as a species.”
As the Zoo’s largest region, Heart of Africa will house lion, cheetah, crane, gazelle, camel, giraffe, zebra, kudu, monkeys, wildebeest, guinea fowl, ostrich and stork in a savanna-like setting.
The Zoo said the $30.4 million exhibit “is made possible through the generosity of Franklin County residents and funds raised through a property tax levy, as well as corporate and private contributions.”
Although it appeared there is much work yet to be done, Stalf said the Heart of Africa will open Memorial Day weekend.