Rafiki is probably the best-known animal at the Zoo, and it’s easy to understand why. This 19-foot-tall, 21-year-old giraffe bull was the first member of his species to ever arrive here, and he’s sired a total of 14 calves with 18-year-old female Milenna and 20-year-old Johari. For much of his time with us, Rafiki has been a fixture at the feeding platform in Expedition Africa, happily gobbling up lettuce long after the rest of the tower had filled up for the day.
But for the past two years, Rafiki has been making fewer public appearances for a couple of reasons—chiefly his arthritis, which can make the daily walk from the barn (where the giraffe stay overnight) to the public viewing area too great a challenge.
“Rafiki has good days and bad days,” says Lauren Hinson, the Zoo’s curator of animals. “We give him the choice to go out two or three days a week, but he doesn’t always take us up on the opportunity. He really doesn’t seem to mind staying in the barn, where he gets extra attention from the keepers all day.”
Rafiki isn’t on medication for his arthritis, but he receives laser therapy on his lower leg joints three times a week to help ease the pain. Keepers trim his hooves once a month to prevent overgrowth.
Milenna, who is now considered geriatric, has been physically separated from Rafiki to prevent further pregnancies. But that doesn’t mean Rafiki won’t have offspring again—he still has access to six-year-old female Kumi, who is maturing.
So even if you don’t see Rafiki during your next visit, you can rest easy knowing he’s living the life behind the scenes. But if you do catch a glimpse of the big guy, be sure to feed him a nice piece of lettuce!