Before their “official” day of recognition, giraffes will be in the spotlight June 18 at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center.

Fossil Rim will host its World Giraffe Day Celebration June 18 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. during one of the park’s Family Fun Days, which are free outside of the normal admission cost. The formal World Giraffe Day will be celebrated around the globe June 21.

“This is a free event for families, so we wanted it to be on a Saturday when they had an opportunity in their schedules to come visit our tower of giraffes,” said Mark Phillips, homeschool coordinator.

Phillips will have a learning station set up June 18 outside the Admission Office.

“We’ll probably have a set of the ossicones, which are somewhat like horns, as well as a model of a giraffe skull,” he said. “People will have to come check it out to see what else we’ll have.”

Meanwhile, there will be a couple of giraffe-themed activities simultaneously underway at the Overlook. Interns will have a face-painting station where they’ll apply giraffe patterns.

“People will see kids with different versions of the giraffe face painting throughout the park and wonder what’s going on,” Phillips said.

There will also be a crafts table where an intern will help children design their own giraffe button.

“Our intern will help kids draw their own giraffe design on paper, and then she’ll turn that artwork into a two-inch button for them to take home,” he said. “We just got the button maker this past winter, so it’s something new.”

When it comes to events like these that focus on one animal species, Phillips hopes it leads to something more for interested young minds.

“If people begin to love and value a particular species through their experiences here, we’ll help them see that all of these species are connected,” he said. “Then, that’s the foundation for them to be stewards of biodiversity. The first step to gaining an attitude of caring is awareness, and we hope that leads to caring through one’s actions for the rest of his or her life.”

As one of four experienced staff members in the education department, Phillips knows how large the giraffes loom at Fossil Rim.

“In the education department, we love asking kids what they enjoyed about a tour as they come off the bus,” Phillips said. “It’s amazing how frequently it’s giraffes that they end up talking about. When you experience something so big, so close and so gentle, I think that captivates people.”

World Giraffe Day is an initiative of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

“That organization is so important for giraffes in terms of research, publicity and pushing initiatives forward,” said Molly Shea, Fossil Rim giraffe caretaker.

Interestingly enough, the formal World Giraffe Day set for June 21 is the longest day of the year and celebrates the animal with the longest neck.

“That was a good idea and it will help people remember the date, which is the key,” Shea said.

Shea is involved with the planning of the activities to be held at Fossil Rim’s World Giraffe Day Celebration, and she knows as much about the park’s giraffes as anyone.

“We have seven giraffes at Fossil Rim,” she said. “We have a breeding bull named ‘Mosi’ that we received from the El Paso Zoo two years ago. We have an older male, ‘Shiner,’ who is castrated. ‘Jurz’ is the oldest of our four adult females.

“We received ‘Kenya,’ our newest giraffe, from the Dallas Zoo in April. Then, there’s ‘Snorgie,’ who was named through a contest, and ‘Nettie,’ who is nearly the same age. Last, but not least, there is ‘Nyla,’ who was born to Nettie in April 2015, and is still a year or two from adulthood.”

Shea said it’s not surprising these are all Texas giraffes.

“Giraffes are a difficult animal to move, so you try not to make them travel very far,” she said.

In May, Shea traveled to Chicago for her first International Giraffid Conference.

“I learned a lot,” she said. “It’s really neat to hear the many differences in how we function compared to zoos. The way we manage our animals is a lot more hands-off.

“I learned the specifics of giraffe conservation efforts throughout the world. Hearing new research that hadn’t even been published yet, such as insight on their methods of communication, was so interesting.”

While giraffes aren’t an endangered species, Shea hopes people don’t dismiss the importance of conservation where they are concerned.

“To classify giraffes as ‘Least Concern’ (on the IUCN Red List) is kind of generic, because some of the (nine) subspecies are struggling,” she said. “The tough part is they’re losing their habitat, so only a few giraffes exist outside of wildlife preserves or national parks.

Something very important these giraffe organizations are doing is working with the local people in the giraffes’ native lands to teach about sustainable living and how to protect their crops and land without harming giraffes.

“They’re trying to get rid of snares, because they catch a lot of giraffes even though they aren’t the intended target. Human encroachment is what it comes down to for giraffes, even though lions are a threat to giraffe calves.”

Like Phillips, Shea knows just how popular giraffes are with Fossil Rim visitors.

“Giraffes are a huge part of the Fossil Rim experience,” she said. “They’re usually what people come to see here. It’s one of the most personable animals and the only species you are allowed to handfeed at Fossil Rim. I think the chance to have an intimate moment with them is the draw for people.

“They’re so beautiful and so unique in the animal kingdom. There’s no animal that looks like them, and only the okapi is even in their family (Giraffidae). Going to see them every day is usually the highlight for me, feeding them browse and knowing each giraffe and their different personalities.”

As someone who cares a great deal for this species, Shea hopes Fossil Rim’s World Giraffe Day Celebration will impact interested young visitors.

“I just hope people value giraffes, not just being able to feed them, because that doesn’t happen for everyone,” she said. “Just to be able to look at an entire herd acting naturally here is really special I think, even when they are far away. Don’t just take a picture and move on, but stop and appreciate them.”