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Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo to celebrate World Giraffe Day on Thursday as species faces threats in the wild

The Fort Wayne Children's Zoo will celebrate World Giraffe Day with a variety of activities 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday at the zoo, 3411 Sherman Blvd. in Franke Park. (News-Sentinel.com file photo)

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo will celebrate World Giraffe Day on Thursday to educate visitors about this threatened species.

At the same time, the zoo continues to work on changes to prevent one of the younger members of the species, the zoo’s Thabisa, from making any other escape from the zoo’s giraffe exhibit in the African Journey area, said Bonnie Kemp, zoo director of communication.

The inquisitive Thabisa, now 7 months old, surprised zoo staff in late April when she found a way to escape while walking for the first time down the chute from the giraffe barn to the animals’ outdoor exhibit.

Before being guided back to the giraffe barn, the youngster ran around a fenced-in area used for zoo staff parking. There were no zoo visitors near the area where the escape happened.

Since that event, Thabisa and her mom, Faye, have been spending their days in the giraffe barn rather than being out in the exhibit with other giraffes, including 10-month-old Kita.

The zoo’s herd of reticulated giraffes includes three generations: Female Zuri and male Jelani are the parents of female Zahra, and Zahra and male Ezeji are the parents of Kita, the news release said.

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, zoo visitors can take part in giraffe-themed games, learn more about the world’s tallest land mammal, how zookeepers take care of them and why the animals are a threatened species in the wild, a zoo news release said.

Male giraffes, which get the biggest, can stand 19 feet tall and weigh as much as 2,800 pounds, the zoo said on its website. Giraffes prefer to live in dry savanna and grassland areas in Africa, where they eat mostly eat tree leaves and twigs, the zoo website said.

Giraffes live in about 20 countries in Africa, but they have declined significantly in overall population in the wild in recent years, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reports on it Red List of threatened species.

IUCN’s Red List identifies the giraffe as a “Vulnerable” species, which is one step away from being considered an endangered species. While giraffes in some areas are doing well, the overall wild population has declined from 150,000 to 163,500 animals in 1985 to about 97,500 animals in 2015, a drop of about 35 percent to 40 percent, the IUCN reported.

Giraffes face four major threats to survival in the wild, the IUCN said:

• Habitat loss caused by deforestation, conversion of land to other uses, increased farming and human population growth.

• Civil unrest, including ethnic violence, rebel militias and military operations.

• Illegal hunting of the animals.

• Ecological changes, such as mining work, conversion of land to farming and factors related to climate change, such as drought.

Oil drilling in areas such as Uganda disrupts giraffes’ use of habitat in the wild, according to information from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which was provided by the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.

Giraffes sometimes are killed or seriously injured by snares set by people trying to catch wild animals for meat, the AZA information said.

Droughts can hurt giraffe populations in the wild because the animals need to drink at watering holes every few days, the AZA information said. During droughts, which are becoming more frequent and severe, cattle and livestock also may drink at the same watering holes used by giraffes and other wild animals, the AZA said.

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