This Zoo's New Giraffe Experience Is the Therapy Session Visitors Didn't Know They Needed

·2 min read

A new interactive experience at the Philadelphia Zoo is getting visitors up close — and providing some unexpected stress relief — with some of the tallest creatures on the planet.

"I'm a psychotherapist. Our job has been particularly stressful, trying to support our people," a visitor to the zoo's "Giraffe Encounter," told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "There is an innocence and playfulness about animals. This gives you a reprieve from the problems of the world."

"They're so docile and calm," she added of the giraffes.

Another visitor echoed the same sentiment.

"When you go to a place like this, it takes you outside of everything going on with a clear head," she said.

And the benefit goes both ways as the zoo's director of mission integration, told the newspaper that the program also helped zookeepers "enhance the lives of our giraffes."

Zoo staff at the Giraffe Feeding Experience at the Philadelphia Zoo
Zoo staff at the Giraffe Feeding Experience at the Philadelphia Zoo

Courtesy of Philadelphia Zoo

A mom holding her baby feeding a giraffe at the Giraffe Feeding Experience in the Philadelphia Zoo
A mom holding her baby feeding a giraffe at the Giraffe Feeding Experience in the Philadelphia Zoo

Courtesy of Philadelphia Zoo

To prepare for the program, zookeepers have been working to acclimate the animals to hand-feeding from strangers for the last few weeks. The zoo's three giraffes: Stella, Abigail, and Bea seem to know their limits on socialization and have been taking turns accepting food from visitors.

Visitors to the experience are handed one piece of browse, a leafy vegetation composed of twigs and shoots, to feed the giraffes. Depending on the season, visitors may feed the giraffes acacia browse, a typical food that they would eat in the wild, or substitute in mulberry or honeysuckle.

A little girl feeding a giraffe at the Giraffe Feeding Experience in the Philadelphia Zoo
A little girl feeding a giraffe at the Giraffe Feeding Experience in the Philadelphia Zoo

Courtesy of Philadelphia Zoo

Giraffes typically eat between 65 and 75 pounds of plants per day and so far, they show no signs of filling up from their feedings or overeating. But zoo staff will continue monitoring the feedings and keeping data to understand how the feedings are impacting the animals.

A Giraffe eating at the Philadelphia Zoo
A Giraffe eating at the Philadelphia Zoo

Courtesy of Philadelphia Zoo

General admission for the Giraffe Encounter is $6 per person, or $5 for zoo members. The experience is open every day from 10 a.m. until 12 p.m. and again from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. The zoo itself is open every day from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. Reservations are required ahead of a visit and are available to book online.

Cailey Rizzo is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure, currently based in Brooklyn. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, or at caileyrizzo.com.