Giraffe Night: Two Chicago-area AAZK Chapters with One Great Cause!
By Dave Fuentes
Thursday, June 19th was a busy night in the Chicago-area as both of its local American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) Chapters prepared for World Giraffe Day via their own separate events! Two giraffe keepers and a mammal curator from our patron zoo, Brookfield, hosted “Long Necks for Long Necks” at the local Irish Times restaurant/tavern while our friends at The Lincoln Park Zoo AAZK chapter held an event at Bottle and Bottega in Chicago. “Long Necks” was in reference to both beer bottles as well as the giraffe’s most notable physical feature while Lincoln Park AAZK offered something a bit more sophisticated with wine and a painting activity. As an AAZK member, I felt it was important to support our friends at the other chapter and decided to ambitiously attend BOTH events. Yes it was a tough business doing all that drinking for giraffes but, gosh darn it, somebody had to it.
World Giraffe Day is a new occasion created by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) in an effort to raise awareness regarding the challenges giraffes face in the wild. Though giraffes are among the world’s most popular animals, there is actually very little research on them. The fact that their numbers have decreased from 140,000 in the late ‘90s to 80,000 today illustrates the need for this to change. In an effort to fund the necessary professionals and resources to do so, World Giraffe Day was conceived and, in celebration of their long necks, it would take place on June 21st a.k.a. the longest day of the year. Seventy zoos and conservation institutions across the globe participated with their own activities that day and I’m proud to say that our Brookfield Zoo was one of them; featuring a fun parade for kids, arts and crafts, as well as a 1st birthday cake for their young giraffe, Potoka!
First up was “Long Necks for Long Necks.” During our previous chapter meeting, giraffe keepers Racquel Ardisana and Dana Vinci and mammal curator Amy Roberts joined us to ask for our assistance in promoting this event. Irish Times is located close to the zoo and was offering meal discounts for those who presented their zoo badge. The idea was that the 25% savings would then be turned over to GCF so it was great way for people to show their support while doing what most of them like doing anyway; eating and drinking. Non zoo crew folks could also participate as long as they stated their intentions before placing their orders.
I arrived about a half hour after it began and was immediately greeted by a group of my fellow volunteers obviously having a great time. Zoo crew members (keepers, staff, and volunteers) were spread out amongst the regulars and I made a point to say hello to as many as I could while snapping photos for our Facebook page (and if you haven’t “liked” us already, please do so) using one of my daughter’s stuffed giraffes as a prop.
In addition to the money being generated by customer orders, there was also some amazing works of art up for silent auction along with hand-crafted items for sale. Probably the most notable was a life-size painting of Brookfield Zoo giraffe, Jasiri’s hind quarters! This was created by the uber-talented Matthew Owens who works in the exhibits department and has generously donated his talents for other events such as the African Painted Dog conference last April and our annual Spaghetti Dinners.
Many other talented zoo staff donated art work including Lisa Walsh, Lee Stahl, Sarah Feliciano and Carla Owens to name a fewJ
“Long Necks for Long Necks” would prove to be a big success so kudos to Racquel, Dana and Amy for a job well done!
I said goodbye to my friends before heading into the city for the next event.
I’d never been to Bottle & Bottega before despite them having multiple locations and having heard positive things. Lincoln Park AAZK sold tickets online for $35 a head (or in this instance, I should probably say “neck”) and participants enjoyed an hour of cocktails and socializing before the main event. I arrived just at the end of social hour but still had enough time for a glass of wine and a giraffe cookie while saying hello to friends.
Like “Long Necks,” this event generated a large turn-out, many of whom came out to support our Vital Grounds spaghetti dinner last March. The fact that both of our chapters were participating (either directly or indirectly) with a giraffe themed event illustrates how all AZA accredited zoos work and their AAZK chapters are working towards the same goals. There’s no competition between chapters (unless it’s a friendly one like “Trees for You and Me”) and happy to say that relations between the Brookfield Zoo and Lincoln Park Zoo AAZK chapters have never been better.
Tables were set up featuring blank easels and art supplies. Participants could choose between two pictures; one featuring a giraffe head and the other a city skyline. Not surprisingly, the giraffe would prove the evening’s most popular design. We sat down while the instructor had us draw a sketch of our subject onto the canvas. I hadn’t done anything like this since high school art class which was exactly 25 years ago but this was less about skill as it was having a good time for a great cause.
I got to meet the keeper responsible for putting it all together, Allison Kao. Allison just joined the Lincoln Park AAZK chapter within the past year and having moved to Chicago from Colorado. She’d been a giraffe keeper at The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo which is notable for having an impressive herd of twenty-four reticulated giraffes in their collection.
I have to say, I had a lot of fun and this is something other AAZK chapters (or anyone looking for a fun group event) should consider doing. Every finished painting looked completely different and I don’t think I did too bad all things considered…though I’m sure no Matthew Owens!
For more information on World Giraffe Day, the plight of giraffes and what you can do to help, please visit these websites:
Edited: Bill Steele/Amy Roberts
Photos Dave Fuentes
WRAP-UP REPORT From Amy Roberts, Curator, Mammals:
“A quick wrap up of the first ever World Giraffe Day. It was the most successful fund raising event for Giraffe Conservation Foundation. The minimum of $20,000 was made so it was matched by the Leiden Conservation Foundation. Below are the new trailers for the upcoming movie “Last of the Longnecks. Thanks to all who helped make WGD a success!”