Not your typical day at the zoo

Randolph Community College’s welding technology students work on a giraffe project at the North Carolina Zoo. Photo: Sydney Bartholow/RCC

Designing and building a giraffe enrichment device is a tall order, but students in Randolph Community College’s welding technology program were up for the challenge.

They recently worked with zookeepers from the North Carolina Zoo to improve an existing enrichment item and add a new one to the giraffe enclosure behind the scenes at the zoo in Asheboro.

The students worked for several hours last week to remove an old wire basket from a pole and install new hardware they created with design help from zookeepers. While the old basket — originally designed as a hay feeder — could hold a few tree boughs (from which the resident giraffes love to munch on the leaves), the new gadget has a horizontal bar with eight loops across the top to which various enrichment items can be attached. It is also angled to boost the height of the 16-foot pole to a total of 18 feet to place it at “giraffe height.” The hardware was then mounted to a hand-cranked hoist that can be moved to the bottom of the pole for access by zookeepers.

Photo: Sydney Bartholow/RCC

The armature will give zookeepers more options to provide the giraffes enrichment with feeding puzzles, toys and other objects to stimulate their curiosity and engagement.

Michael Ford, who heads the college’s welding department, said real-world projects such as this help the students prepare for the workforce, where skilled welders are in demand.

The RCC welding department previously worked with the zoo to build several elephant feeders in 2013 and 2016, which solved a problem of the elephants ingesting sand while feeding off the ground.

About the Author

Cathy Hefferin
is a public information officer at Randolph Community College in North Carolina.