East Bay arborists help keep giraffes at Oakland zoo well-fed


Oakland Zoo Welcomes New Giraffe, Kijiji, to the Herd by
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PLEASANTON (KPIX) — The Oakland Zoo has partnered with some local small businesses to recycle trees into compost with a  little help from the animals.

Trex Donovan owns Buena Vista Tree Service out of Livermore. He’s been in the arborist business for more than 20 years. All this week his crews are trimming dozens of trees at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton.

“Right now they’re working on a Modesto Ash here,” says Donovan as he gestured toward a tree towering over a light post near the clock tower.

Crews are producing hundreds of pounds of downed branches and leaves that have to go somewhere. For some companies, that means the landfill. That’s not the case at Buena Vista.

Trex says he was an Eagle Scout growing up and is now a scout leader. He deeply believes in being a steward of the land. Most of the branches are turned into wood chips that are given away for composting and ground cover.

“I’d much rather help out our ecosystem by trying to recycle, reuse and repurpose as much of our material as possible,”  Donovan said.

There’s also a second pile of branches that are set aside and loaded into the back of Trex’s truck. The material will also be recycled and repurposed — in this case by five giraffes at the Oakland Zoo.

“They get fed every hour to two hours or so because they eat so much in the wild,” says Leslie Rao, senior keeper overseeing the giraffes. She said each giraffe can eat up to 75 pounds of food per day so the zoo relies on local tree-trimming companies like Buena Vista to help keep the animals well-fed.

“It is the key to us providing them the best care possible … We can’t sustainably grow that here for us to cut and offer them that as their diet,”  Rao explained. She’s the one that bundled the branches and hung them inside the enclosure to closely mimic their appearance in the wild.

The first giraffe to come over was Mabusu. He’s a 15-year-old male, the oldest, darkest and largest of the giraffes whose name means “kisses” in Swahili. He wrapped his tongue around a branch and stripped the entire branch of the leaves with one quick motion, pulling them into his mouth with a satisfying crunch.

Maggie was the next to come over. She’s Mabusu’s 10-year-old daughter. Rao says she’s generally the zoo favorite because she’s the one who is most interested in visitors.

The other three giraffes all took turns taking a few bites of the fresh-cut leaves.

Tsavo, a 5-year-old male, and Zawadi, a 2-year-old male, nibbled a bit then went to find some shade for a nap.

Kijiji, a 4-year-old female whose name means “village” in Swahili was the most interested in the camera equipment and other snacks we had to offer like banana slices and carrots.

The two cubic yards of branches Trex dropped off from the Alameda County Fairgrounds will keep the giraffes fed for about a day and a half, which is just enough time to gather more branches and bring in another load.

“Nice to see them eating it and then to see them strip all the leaves off the branches and everything. It’s kind of cool. It’s fun to be a part of it,” Donovan said.

The Oakland Zoo partners with a handful of tree-trimming companies in the area, including Buena Vista, to help feed the giraffes:

Garcia Professional Tree Service: (510) 915-0201

Buena Vista Tree Service: (925) 449-1203

Luis’s Tree Service: (510) 575-5667

Duda Tree Service: (510) 531-5261

Miguel Terra Petra Gardens: (510) 205-9647

Green Terra Tree Service: (510) 436-5403

Torogoz Landscaping LLC: (510) 575-8694

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