Animal Caregiver Ellie Gressman attends Giraffe Care Workshop

Posted in: Conservation, Goings on


I’m Ellie Gressman and for this past year I have held the position of Lead Keeper for String 5 here at Safari West. String 5 cares for a variety of animals, including several bird species, multiple antelope species, warthogs, red river hogs, and Safari West’s impressive tower of 14 giraffe. Giraffe are incredibly charismatic animals to work with. They are extremely strong, powerful, curious, and intelligent. However, their unique anatomy, social structure, and diet makes their care exceptionally complex and delicate.


This past October, Safari West enabled me to experience an exciting learning opportunity at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colorado by attending the zoo’s annual Giraffe Care Workshop. Renowned for many accomplishments, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is particularly hailed in the zoo community for their incredible giraffe care, knowledge, and research. I had initially heard of this workshop when I began my zoo-keeping journey 5 years ago and had always dreamed of attending. Naturally, I was thrilled to finally have the chance to visit and learn all about the intricacies of giraffe care from the specialists who know it best!

This year the workshop consisted of ten speakers from facilities across the country who lectured on more than a dozen topics centered around giraffe care. For those three days, it was as though I had been sent back to college and was earning a degree in one subject: Giraffe. Presentations consisted of everything from diet and browse provision to common giraffe health concerns and their treatment, housing requirements and design, giraffe breeding and genetics, pregnancy and calf care, giraffe training and enrichment, and everything in between.

Beyond soaking up the knowledge shared by the presenters, I also had the opportunity to connect with the other attendees representing their zoological facilities. They were, to a person, all just as excited about collaborating and furthering the care of giraffe under human care as I was. It was a great chance to hear about the many ways in which facilities across the country care for these tall, magnificent creatures.

While the majority of time was spent in the zoo’s classroom pouring over presentations and information, we did take a few breaks to rest our note taking muscles. In these breaks we headed to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s impressive giraffe barn to meet their 16-member herd, view and participate in giraffe training sessions, and explore the barn. Safari West is blessed to be home to such a large tower of giraffe, which is fairly uncommon for other zoological facilities in America, so I was really excited to see how another facility with a similarly sized herd of giraffe houses and cares for their group. Overall, I was extremely proud to say that Safari West is quite advanced in terms of giraffe care. Our veterinary health care, diet and food provision, breeding and calving success, among many other qualities, are largely aligned with the recommendations and ideals of the giraffe specialists, veterinarians, and researchers at this workshop.

I was excited to return home to Safari West and our tower of giraffe. Excited to share the knowledge and resources that I brought back to our animal care team, and excited for the future of our giraffe herd as we continue to expand and develop their care, dedicated to providing them with the healthiest and happiest lives possible.