Did you know that a giraffe’s tongue is purple to protect it from sunburn in hot climates? Or that a giraffe has seven vertebrae in its long neck—the same as other mammals including people?
I didn’t. That is, until the giraffe April brought all things giraffe to my attention.
My family and I recently visited the now-famous April, her mate Oliver and their calf, Tajari (a Swahili word meaning “hope”) at their now-famous home, Animal Adventure Park, located in Harpursville, NY. The park is only about a 45 minute drive from our home in Hancock, NY. Just around the corner, really. Elementary students from my kid’s school go on regular field trips there. Local kids attend summer day camps there to learn about and interact with the resident animals. But I had never been to the park, which opened in 2013 and hosts over 200 animals from about 70 different species.
But by now, nearly everyone in upstate New York has heard about the viral Internet sensation that April the giraffe has become. Now people ask, “Have you gone to see that giraffe yet?”
People began tuning into the life footage of April last February, watching and waiting for her to give birth. “Is that giraffe still pregnant?” people asked, waiting two months until April finally gave birth to a male calf on April 15.
I was among the 1.2 million world-wide viewers who are said to have watched the birth on the live YouTube web-cam. It was just by chance that I was home that Saturday morning, heard of the imminent birth and joined with the many ardent viewers who had been watching—some of them even 24/7. My daughter’s algebra teacher had an I-Pad exclusively devoted to watching the giraffe set up in her classroom, as did many other classrooms across the country.
The giraffe family brought people together, and I think that is part of the reason it was and continues to be so popular. Watching the giraffe brought people a respite from the supercharged, partisan atmosphere following the November presidential election. It was educational and it was fun. The animals are interesting and beautiful. And consequently, April, Oliver and Taj have become a cultural phenomenon. I have also heard numerous stories that detail how viewing the giraffe offered a calming activity for nursing home patients as well as children on the autism spectrum.
Support for the web camera was also bolstered when animal activists interrupted the live footage, claiming that it violated codes of nudity and sexuality. The live camera was turned off but resumed within the hour.
Incidentally, April was born in 2002 at another popular regional zoo, the Catskill Game Farm, which was located in Catskill, NY and closed in 2006 after 73 years of operation.
These days, Animal Adventure Park is expanding. We met the park’s owner, Jordan Patch, directing parking lot traffic the day we visited. Cars sporting license plates from Canada, Texas, Missouri and New Hampshire filled the lot. New construction, expanded parking and programs to promote conservation of animals in the wild are all part of the new initiatives. “That giraffe” has put Harpursville, NY on the map. But if you can’t make a trip to see April and the other animals at Animal Adventure Park, you can still tune into the live giraffe cam, which is still running six days a week, on Sunday through Friday from 4 to 8 p.m.