Why Giraffes have Anxiety

The location of zoos in metropolitan areas exposes animals to stressors that they are not biologically adapted to. The abundance of visitors and their close proximity to the animals causes undue harm to the creatures’ welfare, resulting in a poor quality of life. LAM Architects’ ‘Savannah House’ (2009), housing Rotterdam Zoo’s giraffes, utilises an assortment of materials to pay homage to the animals’ native environment, utilising untreated wood and various grasses to do so (Arch Daily, 2009).


Image One: natural materials are used to pay homage to the animals’ native environment


Historically, maintaining giraffes in captivity has been difficult, especially concerning their nutritional requirements. Zoos substitute alfalfa hay and concentrated feed in place of the giraffes’ typical diet of fresh browse and twigs (Schüßler, 2017). A  wild, adult giraffe typically eats 34kg of foliage a day (Gordon, 2016), and it is unsustainable for a zoo to replicate this diet in captivity due to the lack of space provided to the animals.


These substitutions do not promote natural foraging activities or complex tongue manipulation found in wild giraffes, and results in abnormal repetitive behaviours (Duggan, 2016). Over 80% of giraffes in captivity perform at least one type of stereotypic behaviour (Pierce, 2018), such as non-object food licking or functionless tongue movements as a result of anxiety caused by captivity.


Image Two: feeders are hung throughout the enclosure, however there are a limited amount provided for the giraffes

LAM’s enclosure attempts to combat these stereotypies through hanging food at least 2m above the ground inside a raised feeder. This encourages tongue manipulation from the residents (Jolly). The giraffes therefore use their natural instincts in an unnatural way, feeding from a steel cage rather than a tree.


Despite this attempt, LAM’s enclosure does not provide enough nutrients for the animals solely through this enrichment. Due to the size of the enclosure, there is a limited amount of room available for hanging feeders, resulting in their instinctual method of consuming food becoming an enrichment tool rather than the norm. While this tool is useful, it only partially dissuades stereotypies in giraffes, not removing the behaviour entirely.




An increase in abnormal behaviour has also been found in response to noise. Captive giraffes are exposed to a variety of sounds not found in the wild, both ambient and acute. Researchers from the University of Auckland discovered that the average sound level of a zoo within opening hours was 60.42 decibels (Jakob-Hoff, 2019).


Image Three: Rotterdam Zoo allows the visitors to have close contact with the animals, and the noise at the zoo can be partially attributed to the visitors
Image Four: in the wild, giraffes feed on around 34kg of foliage a day










This average drastically exceeds the 20-36 decibel range found in the savannah (Waser, 1986), suggesting that zoos expose giraffes to sound levels exceeding those to which their species is naturally adapted. Giraffes were shown to display increased levels stereotypies such as vigilance and grooming in response to loud sounds (Jakob-Hoff, 2019), indicative of stress.


Image Five: the plan of the enclosure shows the close proximity visitors can get to the giraffes

LAM’s exhibit allows for visitors to come in close proximity with the animals, adding to the giraffes’ anxiety and increasing the adverse behaviour as a result the loud noises the public emits. The architect is not entirely to blame in regard to the design of the enclosure, as they are catering to the public’s perception of the zoo.


To decrease stress levels and adverse behaviour in giraffes, the enclosures must become larger. This would allow for giraffes to feed instinctually from foliage and permit the animals to distance themselves from loud sounds. This would involve changing the architectural typology of zoos, placing the animals’ needs over the wants of humans.





Image One: Rob Doolaard. “Savannehuis.” 2009. https://www.lam-architects.nl/projecten/savannehuis.html#1

Image Two: Rob Doolaard. “Savannah House.” 2009. https://www.archdaily.com/32901/savannah-house-lam-architects/501157e228ba0d704200030f-savannah-house-lam-architects-image?next_project=no

Image Three: Franken Architectural Photography. “Visitors at the Savannah House.” 2009. https://www.ozetecture.org/ozetecturecommunity/2016/06/netherlands-menno-lam.html

Image Four: “Giraffes Feeding.” https://www.giraffeworlds.com/giraffe-feeding/

Image Five: LAM Architects. “Floor Plan: Savannehius.” 2009. https://www.archdaily.com/32901/savannah-house-lam-architects/5011582128ba0d7042000320-savannah-house-lam-architects-image?next_project=no





Arch Daily. “Savannah House / LAM Architects.” Published August 27, 2009. https://www.archdaily.com/32901/savannah-house-lam-architects

Duggan, Graham., Burn, Charlotte C., and Clauss, Marcus. “Nocturnal behavior in captive giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis)—A pilot study.” Zoo Biology 35, no. 1 (2016): 14-18. DOI: doi-org.ezproxy.library.uwa.edu.au/10.1002/zoo.21248

Gordon, Claire N., Eichenberger, Liesl., Vorster, Paul., Leslie, Alison J., and Jacobs, Shayne M. “Diet and seasonal dispersal of extralimital giraffe at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, Little Karoo, South Africa.” Koedoe 58m no. 1 (2016): 1-6. DOI: 10.4102/koedoe.v58i1.1346

Jakob-Hoff, Richard., Kingan, Michael., Fenemore, Chiaki., Schmid, Gian., and Cockrem, John F. “Potential Impact of Construction Noise on Selected Zoo Animals.” Animals 9, no. 8 (2019): 504. DOI: 10.3390/ani9080504

Jolly, Lorraine. “Giraffe Husbandry Manual.” Accessed April 28, 2021. http://www.australasianzookeeping.org/Husbandry%20Manuals/Husbandry%20manual%20Giraffe.pdf

Pierce, Jessica., and Bekoff, Marc. “A Postzoo Future: Why Welfare Fails Animals in Zoos.” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 21 no. 1 (2018): 43-48. DOI: 10.1080/10888705.2018.1513838

Schüßler, Dominik., and Greven, Hartmut. “Quantitative aspects of the ruminating process in giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis) fed with different diets.” Zoo Biology 36, no. 6 (2017): 407-412. DOI: doi-org.ezproxy.library.uwa.edu.au/10.1002/zoo.21386

Waser, Peter M., and Brown, Charles H. “Habitat acoustics and primate communication.” American Journal of Primatology 10, no. 2 (1986): 135-154. DOI: doi.org/10.1002/ajp.1350100205