When it comes to iconic Brevard Zoo animals, one stands head and shoulders above the rest. Let’s look at Rafiki’s history as we celebrate his 20th birthday.
Rafiki was born “just before midnight” on July 26, 1998 to mom Asali and dad Kito at Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens. According to a press release issued at the time, he measured six feet tall and weighed 146 pounds. Asali had a history of not looking after her calves, so the LA Zoo’s animal care team made the decision to hand-rear Rafiki in their nursery.
Rafiki took to the bottle almost immediately, and one month later, he was drinking three gallons of milk a day and “[loved] to explore hats and pockets.”
In May 1999, Rafiki moved to Franklin Park Zoo in Boston. He finally arrived at Brevard Zoo on April 1, 2003 as we prepared to open Expedition Africa.
Curator Kerry Sweeney, who was a keeper at the time, has vivid memories of his arrival.
“Rafiki was the first giraffe we received and definitely the friendliest,” Sweeney says. “When we started offering giraffe feeding, he came right up; he gave our guests and our community their first opportunity to see a giraffe up close, while the others took a little more time to acclimate.
“One of the reasons why Rafiki is so great is that he recognizes people he’s known for a long time. Even though I don’t work with him anymore, he still remembers me and wants attention when I see him. He just makes me feel special.”
At a time when wild giraffe populations are declining dramatically, Rafiki is a glimmer of hope. He’s sired 11 calves with Johari and Milenna, some of which have produced offspring of their own at other zoos.
Rafiki has left an indelible legacy in terms of his impacts on the Zoo as well as giraffe conservation. Be sure to wish this gentle giant a happy birthday and thank the keepers for their commitment during your next Zoo visit!
We wish to thank Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens for their assistance with this story.