New Use for Problem Tree Branches: Giraffe Snacks at Peoria Zoo

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) —
giraffe branches
Children feed Emy the giraffe at the Peoria Zoo. (Matt Dayhoff/Journal Star via AP)

Ameren Illinois needs electric lines kept free of leafy vegetation. Wright Tree Service contracts with Ameren to keep wires clear by cutting leafy branches off trees. The giraffes at the Peoria Zoo like to snack on leafy branches, particularly, but not exclusively, honey locust and mulberry leaves.

The unlikely convergence of seemingly unconnected facts has created an unlikely partnership. The zoo’s four giraffes, and other animals on exhibit, are the beneficiaries.

“(Ameren) called us,” Zoo Director Yvonne Strode said on a recent morning while Emy the giraffe tongued and chewed a branch of honey locust leaves proffered by a young girl nearby. “We were thrilled that they would be able to provide us with the vegetation that the animals love anyway.”

The branches Wright workers trim daily are typically bound for the chipper or the landfill.

Ameren and Wright recently brought to Peoria the free, community-spirited, giraffe-loving service it was providing to zoos in other midwestern cities. The collaboration was described at a gathering earlier this month of media, zoo officials, zoo campers and visitors, representatives of the tree trimming business and the local utility provider, four giraffes and one Thomson’s gazelle. The Sub-Saharan heat and humidity failed to diminish the giraffes’ appetite for what the zoo calls “browse.”

“Our crews are out trimming every day, and this is a way of supporting the community with what would normally be a waste by-product of our work,” said Bryon Honea, a general foreman with Wright.

Wright brings a truckload a week of logs, branches and leaves to the zoo.

“They were very helpful. We tell them what we need and what we don’t need, and they are very good at supplying us with the trees that we can use,” Strode said.

That means identifying certain species of tree like the honey locust and mulberry and trimming them into usable pieces. The zoo also uses other tree waste in other parts of the zoo. The rhinos, for instance, like to rub against big logs.

“We put word out that we could use some hollow logs, and the next thing you know, 12 hollow logs show up,” Strode said.

Ameren tends to 6,800 miles of electrical lines in Illinois. Trees falling on power lines is the number one cause of outages, said Tucker Kennedy, Ameren’s director of community and public relations.

“There’s a huge need (for the vegetation)” Kennedy said. “We are very proud to share the partnership Ameren Illinois and Wright Tree Service have made with the Peoria Zoo.”

Emy chewed off the last of the leaves and looked for more. Finished, the girl tossed the bare stick in the bin, surely thrilled with the one-on-one interaction with the magnificent beast with the long neck, big eyes and extraordinarily lengthy black tongue.

Someone asked her: “Have you ever fed a giraffe before?”

“Yeah,” she said as she slipped into the crowd.

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