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A day in the life of giraffe keepers at Lion Country Safari

For these passionate keepers, the animals are family
WPTV-LION-COUNTRY-SAFARI-GIRAFFE.jpg
Posted at 11:12 AM, Jun 21, 2019

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Friday, June 21 marks World Giraffe Day, a time to focus on the conservation of giraffes.

But this year, the day takes on a new meaning at Lion Country Safari in Palm Beach County after the park lost two giraffes to a lightning strike last month.

The loss of 1-year-old Jioni (pictured below) and 10-year-old Lily impacted people across our community and the world.

In fact, a local summer camp just sent cards and pictures to Lion Country Safari staff members to express their condolences.

But no one felt a greater loss than the keepers who spend every day with these beautiful animals.

WPTV got exclusive access behind-the-scenes with the giraffe keepers at Lion Country Safari to see how they interact with the animals. For keeper Kimberly Good, the giraffes are her family.

"They’re kind of like my brothers and sisters," Good said. "And maybe I think of Pomela as my mother. She is the one who watches out for everyone. She makes sure everybody stays safe, she will allow two calves to nurse from her at a time which is extremely unusual. She’s extremely nurturing and loving but reserved also, so I’m of course very fond of her. But yes, some of them are a little sassy, some of them could be pushy. I don’t want to say troublemakers, but the boys usually like to get into a little mischief here and there."

Good begins each day setting up food for the giraffes in the open preserve, including hay and browse, which are leaves.

Then it's over to the chute, where Good can check the giraffes out and let them out of the night pen and into the open preserve where they are part of the drive-through safari. The chute also allows keepers to get a good look at the giraffes to see if they need specific medical attention, or for training.

"They make the choices here, so we work for them," Good said. "There's a lot of patience involved in this routine because sometimes they don't want to do what you want them to do."

After seven years with these giraffes, Good knows their routines, personalities, quirks, and that even the slightest thing out of place can spook them.

"There could be a cap of something on the platform and we won't figure it out until they are looking at something, or if there is a stick in the chute they wont pass it," Good said. "They’re a great alert system because they’ll see something we can't see, so I’ll know just by where they’re looking to drive there. And sure enough, it may be a bird or small alligator or something, and they all saw it before I did."

When a violent storm moved in quickly last month, she knew it wasn't good. She was in her truck getting ready to leave for the day.

"I remember that flash of light, and I remember I ducked in the car because it seemed so, oh my God," Good said. "Then I felt it. If you were here you could feel it. You felt that earth move and the feeling comes over you like, oh my God, and I just remember pausing, not knowing why."

Good headed home, but not for long. That's when the phone rang.

"I know when my curator calls me this is not good. She told me, and I didn’t do well. I broke. I don’t even remember driving back here, but I drove back here and they were pretty much were I last saw them," Good said.

That day, the park lost Jioni and Lily.

"It was, the shock," Good said. "I just saw them. I just saw them and I couldn’t... I’m older and I’ve seen some things. That was the worst day of my life. I kinda broke down, I did break down. I’m very emotional and I’m very attached."

🔽 INTERVIEW ABOUT JIONI & LILY 🔽

Good had a very special attachment to Jioni (pictured below), in particular. Good was there when the giraffe was born one year ago.

"He was a character right off the bat, and he was a mama's boy," Good said. "He always went back to her for that, but also you would find him kissing the other giraffes over the fence, being social. He just developed right into the role of strong, sociable. He was one of the ones who would give your truck a nice kick if he didn’t get his sweet potato the way he likes his sweet potato."

As for Lily, Good said there was a distinct way to know when she was around.

"Lily always had the tip of her tongue sticking out, that's how you could tell wherever she was," Good said. "She was a very good mother. No one went near her calves. Sometimes she would get, I don't want to say moody, but she liked her alone time. She wanted what she wanted, she stood her ground, she had a good place in the tower (herd). They all respected her."

While the work can be tough, Good said there is nothing like it.

"It's those little moments throughout the day that make it so worth it, and sometimes surreal when you are just standing there quietly by yourself and have something," Good said. "It could just be that one picture in your mind that you just never forget."

Good and another giraffe keeper at Lion County Safari, Ashley Ullrich, recently traveled to the African country of Namibia to survey and document desert-dwelling giraffes over a two-week period. The trip had a special connection to Jioni, one of the giraffes killed in the lightning strike.

🔽 INTERVIEW ABOUT AFRICAN TRIP 🔽

To learn more about Lion County Safari and its giraffe population, click here.

CELEBRATE WORLD GIRAFFE DAY AT LION COUNTRY SAFARI

  • Friday, June 21 & Saturday, June 22
  • 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.: Giraffe encounter platform open
  • 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.: Giraffe crafts and more
  • 11:30 a.m.: Art Gone Wild! (Watch a giraffe paint)
  • 12 p.m.: Meet the giraffe keeper
  • 12:30 p.m.: Sneak-A-Peek Animal Training Show
  • 1:30 p.m.: Giraffe husbandry & medical
  • 2:00 p.m.: Macaw talk (Saturday only)
  • 2:30 p.m.: Nature's Treasures Animal Show
  • 2:55 p.m.: Watch porcupines enjoy giraffe-themed enrichment
  • 3:00 p.m.: GiRaffle drawing (Saturday only)
  • 3:30 p.m. Reaching New Heights Giraffe Training Demonstration