It was feeding time Tuesday morning at the giraffe exhibit at the Philadelphia Zoo, and Camden County Freeholder Jonathan Young got to hold greens grown in greenhouses in Blackwood, at the Office of Sustainability. Giggling gaggles of schoolchildren gathered nearby, marveling at the gentle animals.
With guidance from the giraffes' keeper, Dawn Madzarac, he fed the animals and was joined by master gardeners from the Rutgers Cooperative Extension, who volunteer their time and expertise to cultivate crops grown using a mix of hydroponic methods.
The greenhouses produce about 540 plants each month, explained Rick Harris, a Pennsauken resident and master gardener.
The greens grown by the master gardeners will also be fed to Galapagos tortoises, white-eyes (small, tropical birds), gorillas, colobus monkeys and other small primates, explained Barbara Toddes.
The lettuces being fed to the giraffes Tuesday are meant to supplement their regular diet, Toddes said. Since giraffes graze constantly, any greens they don't take immediately at the public feeding can be left in the water moat surrounding their enclosure, and will last for nearly a week — though the giraffes will likely eat them before that.
Their diet staple is wild herbivore pellets, along with alfalfa hay, timothy hay and browse from acacia and mulberry trees, Toddes explained.
The day before, as they prepared to harvest the crop at the county's Lakeland complex in Blackwood, Chris Waldron offered a tutorial in growing techniques used to grow the crops in greenhouses.