by Paul Swen

It seemed like they had trekked for hours. When the troupe of explorers arrived, the morning was alive with strange animal calls. The forest was filled with a cacophony of sounds in every direction. Their journey began along a river where otters swam and a myriad of water fowl adorned the shores. A lone bald eagle watched their every step from his perch just a few feet away. Slowly, they passed through caverns where giant cats prowled. Cougars eyed them with quiet power. An ocelot lazed in the broken sunlight with its beautiful coat awash in color. As they crept beneath the ceiling of blooming vines, they came eye to eye with a 600-pound Bengal Tiger, who stared at them as only a cat can stare.

Then their journey led them into darkness. They explored a cave filled with creatures that astonish and amaze. Snakes of all sorts and sizes, frogs that looked like living paintings and spiders as big as a man’s hand filled the cavernous compartments. They passed through without incident and promptly encountered a pair of huge black bears. Luckily the bears were busy gobbling a treat of delicious honey and seemed indifferent to their guests.

So, they pushed on. Carefully they crept along a winding path that circumventing a pond that was alive with huge alligators. Through a bamboo forest, they climbed upwards. They spotted beautiful black and white monkeys in the trees and giant, striped antelopes grazed on the forest floor. Then they heard the roar. The roar of a lion is unmistakable and humbling. It travels for miles. Its power can strike fear in all but the bravest of souls. They came out from a break in the trees and there he was—400 pounds of muscle, claws and fangs. He was right there, gazing across the savanna has if admiring his kingdom. Quietly, they moved on.

Their path led them by a village of busy, bustling meerkats, who stood upon their back legs and watched them curiously as they passed. Upwards they continued, passing a waterfall where yellow-eyed lemurs pranced among the branches. They climbed the hill overlooking a great, open glade where a myriad of animals jostled for position. Impala and kudu kept a wary eye on the lion who watched them from his rocky lair and zebra guarded their young.

As the team continued to climb, they were startled to see a pair of magnificent cheetahs relaxing in the shade. Their spotted coats were perfect camouflage in the fallen leaves and summer grass. The cats hypnotizing eyes followed them as the team continued towards the summit. 

At the top of the hill, the explorers made their way around a bend and
arrived at the land of giants.

Three elephants roamed the red dirt and trumpeted as they cooled themselves in a great pool. And right in front was a herd of unbelievably tall and astonishing beautiful giraffes. They stood with such magnificence. They moved with such refined grace. Despite their tremendous height, some of them rising to nearly twenty feet tall, they walked in almost absolute silence. The team was captivated. The geometric patterns on the coats were wonderfully intricate and unique. They seemed to dance in the sunlight.

The giants were more than a bit intimidating with their hooves the size of dinner plates and strength to cripple even the mighty lion. So, it was with some real trepidation that the adventurers moved out of the shadows and slowly towards the herd. They made their way onto a perch that rose high above the ground, in the realm of birds, that put them at head height with the giraffe. When the luminous, gentle eyes looked down into their faces, every member of the team was helpless. 

As if summoning strength from within, Lizzie, the bravest of the explorers reaches out. She extends her arm as far as she can and makes an offering to the giant giraffe. In an instant, the leaf of lettuce she held out is delicately taken from her grasp and swallowed, descending down that incredibly long, refined neck. Lizzie turns to her team, trembling, “THAT WAS AWESOME!”  

The rest of the family, now emboldened by the girl’s experience races forward to join in the joy of feeding a giant, gentle giraffe at the Caldwell Zoo. An experience unlike any other. Come see for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.