"You might get to feed some giraffes. You also might be pushed, butted, tongued, slobbered, slimed or startled."
The sign on the observation deck at the Expedition Africa exhibit at the Brevard Zoo made it clear: It's hard to predict exactly what your experience feeding snacks to giraffes will be like. On a few of my visits, the long-necked animals weren't anywhere to be seen, so a little pushing and slobbering would be fine with me.
Fortunately, a trio of giraffes was plenty hungry on my latest stop at the wonderful Brevard Zoo (brevardzoo.org). One of them stretched his head gently over the railing of the elevated platform to extend a long, sticky-looking tongue to scarf down one of the snacks, a wafer that looked like a granola bar.
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Feeding the giraffes is the must-do stop at the zoo, set to mark its 20th anniversary in March. The celebration will include the opening of a new exhibit that will offer some competition for the giraffes in the cuteness department.
Meerkat Hamlet, a $525,000 home for the burrowing African mammals, will debut at a celebration on March 15 and 16, also the zoo's anniversary. The new exhibit was under wraps on my visit, hidden behind an adorable sign with the critters in construction helmets.
Soon, the finished attraction at the entry to Expedition Africa will feature an interactive termite mound where visitors can watch the meerkats at work through transparent tubes.
In addition to the meerkat's debut, the birthday weekend also will feature a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. March 15, followed by an 11 a.m. parade. Free mini cupcakes will be available for the first 500 guests on March 15 and 16. There will be a giant birthday card to sign, as well as music, games and crafts.
That all sounds like fun, but my favorite zoo pleasures are quieter moments that await along the wide wooden boardwalks that lead through the five themed loops: Expedition Africa, La Selva (modeled after the rain forests of South America), Austral-Asia, Wild Florida and the children's area, Paws on Play.
I stood for a long time watching a pair of bald eagles at close range, lost a staring contest with a red-tailed hawk and watched a red wolf prowl restlessly under a canopy of trees.
Meerkats are on my list for next time.