In anticipation of the opening of their new grand stage, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s ‘Heart of Africa’ exhibit, 11 giraffes have been training for their end of what figures to be a one-of-a-kind experience for patrons. Messer is leading construction of the new exhibit, expected to open this summer, which among its many unique features will allow patrons to feed the giraffes.

Turns out, though, that giraffes are shy animals by nature, so getting them to open up to strangers is quite the… tall… task.

“It takes time for them to get acclimated with people,” said Adam Felts, assistant curator at the Zoo. “They are very shy animals; they don’t necessarily like to be touched. So we spend a lot of time with our volunteers and our docents just standing up here feeding them.”

While a few details, like feeding times and frequency, still need to be sorted out, it’s clear the exhibit will add to what is already considered one of the top zoos in the country.

“Columbus has been asking, ‘Where are your giraffe and zebra?’ for the last eight years,” Felts said, “and (now) they’re here.”

In addition to giraffes and zebras, ‘Heart of Africa’ will feature several other animals, including cheetahs, monkeys and lions. Fourteen new buildings, ranging from a café to animal-housing structures, are being erected for the exhibit.

Covering more than 35 acres, one of the exhibit’s most unique aspects is the scope of its landscaping, as 5,456 plants and 583 trees (60 are “large trees”) are being added in addition to more than 1,500 pounds of grass seed and 13,000 bags of mulch.