Giraffes are fed a variety of fruits, vegetables and leaves in captivity, although each zoo offers a slightly different menu to these tall mammals. Among the common items offered to giraffes are lettuces, carrots, apples, bananas and alfalfa hay. Many zoos raise these food items high in the air to simulate the giraffe’s natural feeding behavior.
In addition to fruits and vegetables, zookeepers often provide their charges with leafy branches to eat. Some of the common trees used for this purpose include alders, elms, ficus, ash and poplar. When eating this type of food, giraffes grab a small branch with their tongues and use their upper lips to rip it off. This is necessary because giraffes do not have upper teeth.
Giraffes are rather gentle animals, and many zoos allow visitors to have some contact with them. Some zoos, such as Zoo Atlanta, allow visitors to feed the giraffes as well. Typically, large, leafy vegetables, such as romaine lettuce, are used in these contexts, as the large leaves make it easier for visitors to hold while the giraffe is feeding.
In the wild, giraffes use their tongues extensively. Many zoos attempt to encourage similar behavior in captivity, so they place food in small cages. That way, if the giraffe wants to eat the food inside the cage, it must use its tongue to extract the food.