The Santa Barbara Zoo unveiled two new giraffes last week, hoping to attract new visitors and strengthen connections with other West Coast zoos.
Betty Lou and Audrey recently moved from the Los Angeles Zoo as part of a regional giraffe management program. The new Masai giraffes will join the zoo’s 20-year-old Baringo giraffe Sulima, who has lived by herself since the death of the famous crooked-necked giraffe Gemina two years ago.
Santa Barbara’s Assistant Zoo Director Alan Varsik said Audrey and Betty Lou have already grown accustomed to their new surroundings.
“The introduction of the two new giraffes to Sulima went very smoothly and they all get along,” Varsik said. “Audrey is still pretty shy with people, but Betty Lou is quite friendly.”
This is the first time any Masai giraffes have called the Santa Barbara Zoo home, and Varsik noted that the new additions increase opportunities to partner with other West Coast zoos for breeding purposes.
“We can work with zoos that are closer to us … for our breeding program,” Varsik said. “Los Angeles and San Diego have Masai giraffes, and by having the same subspecies, we have the opportunity to work with those zoos more.”
Santa Barbara Zoo Director Nancy McToldridge said the public has responded enthusiastically to the new animals.
“People are very excited about the giraffes and about our participation in the Masai giraffe program,” McToldridge said. “People love the giraffes and are very fond of that species here.”
The Masai is the largest subspecies of giraffe, and Varsik said the zoo expects Audrey and Betty Lou to reach approximately 17 feet in height.
“Audrey and Betty Lou are currently smaller than Sulima, and people seem to realize that they are youngsters,” Varsik said. “They will continue growing and may end up taller than Sulima. It is a nice thing for our guests to get to see them grow up.”
According to Varsik, the zoo aims to expand its giraffe population with the addition of a male Masai giraffe this summer, as well as with calves once the animals are mature enough for breeding.
“This change gives us the opportunity for breeding our giraffes in the future, but it will be a long time before we have any calves,” Varsik said. “There is that 20-month gestation period once they breed so a good part of … students may have graduated before we have calves. But they can come visit us — we hope they do.”