Jelani the Giraffe's 16th Birthday

Children at the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo sang "Happy Birthday" to the zoo's tallest resident as he turned 16 on Friday.

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Ben Mikesell | The Journal Gazette
Jelani the giraffe munches on lettuce while Jaden Richard, 6, waits to give him some more at his 16th birthday celebration Friday at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.
Birthday lettuce for Jelani

Birthday lettuce for Jelani: Sweet 16 for zoo’s tallest resident

He doesn’t need a birthday cake or all the attention to confirm to him what he clearly knows.

Jelani is the king. At nearly 17 feet tall and weighing in at around 2,550 pounds, the reticulated giraffe is often the center of attention at the feeding platform. His large, triangular head draws dozens of children waving romaine lettuce leaves toward his outstretched tongue. If one steps back, drawing away his desired snack, the big guy just pushes farther with that head and reaches more with that tongue.

But Friday morning was all about him, officially, as it was his 16th birthday celebration.

On the paths leading up to the giraffe platform, children could use their thumbprints to put spots on a spot-less giraffe picture, pin the tail on a giraffe, answer giraffe trivia and get themselves all psyched up to hang with Jelani, the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo’s tallest resident.

Three-year-old Ethan Chenowith loves giraffes in general, so much so that he wears his Halloween costume about once a week, even in the summer. And he had it on Friday morning, a fuzzy little giraffe suit covering his sweaty head. He, too, stood before the giant Jelani, waving romaine near his face.

As a zookeeper carried a tray of artfully arranged romaine lettuce and sweet potatoes toward the front of the platform, in much the same way servants might have borne bowls of grapes to ancient royalty, the crowd of kids and adults parted.

Shortly after 11 a.m., they sang. “Happy birthday, dear Jelani. Happy birthday to you!”

After the celebration, another 3-year-old clung to his mother and grinned as she talked about how much he loves giraffes – Jelani specifically, since he was the first giraffe Logan Child fed. They came especially for his birthday party.

“He makes us come and feed them every time we are here,” Joellen Child said.

Seemingly oblivious to the noise, the big giraffe noshed his birthday snack.

As the giggling children funneled back down the paths to tour the rest of the exhibits, many stopped to sign a birthday card for the giraffe, or to pose in a cut-out of the “car” he was given as a birthday gift.

Of course, he can’t really drive the car. But don’t think for a second that Jelani doesn’t think he deserves one.

rgreen@jg.net

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