Securing a shared future for wildlife and people

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Hope enjoys a carrot treat from keeper, Natalie Dunn.
Photo: Clare Chenoweth

Hope, Taronga Zoo's 23 year old female giraffe, swings her head around and seems to stare directly at her keeper Jimmy's face as he walks past rattling his keys.

Hope's senses are compensating for the fact that she is blind.

It's uncanny, but she can recognise Jimmy's keys' distinctive jingle from the rattle of all the other keepers' keys.

This is just one of the little adaptations she has made.

Hope's eyesight began to deteriorate in 1995 and has now reached the point where veterinarians believe she is almost completely blind.

However, this doesn't stop her locating the food bundles that are hung around her exhibit, or finding her way around.

Jimmy said: "When we re-surface the exhibit from time to time, Hope seems to find this a little disconcerting. We've realised that she has worked out in her mind where all the little dips and divots are in the exhibit, so when we re-surface we take special care to lead her through the exhibit a few times so she can recalibrate her mental map of the place."

The same goes for any new structures, like feeding poles, that are introduced. After her keepers gently introduce her to them and she gets the feel of them, she can remember where they are and avoid them with no trouble.

To the casual observer, it is very hard to tell that Hope is blind and with the help of her now heightened sense of hearing, combined with her well developed knowledge of her exhibit, she is able to have a grand time enjoying the carrots proffered at feeding time and socialising with her family.

She makes sure she gets her share during feeding sessions by sticking out her very long, blue tongue so that keepers can touch it with a carrot, allowing Hope to pop them into her mouth.

If Hope was in the wild, her chances of survival would be very slim, along with the other animals around her, as they rely on a giraffe's usually excellent vision to warn them of approaching predators.

Jimmy said: "If a giraffe sees a threat like a lion or hyena, the other animals take their cue to flee when the giraffe heads off."

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