Animal encounter a tall tale

It is the middle of winter and Flamingo Land is a little quieter than usual.

There are no long queues outside the star rides and they instead sit dormant and await the summer season.

Some of the giraffes at Flamingo Land

Some of the giraffes at Flamingo Land

Yet there is life in the park, and for the second year running the zoo has been opened to the public throughout the winter months.

Yet for many of the animals, evolved to cope with the heat of the Australian bush or the African plains, North Yorkshire ‘s weather is a little chilly.

So a visitor to the zoo will often find themselves stood at a window, hoping to catch a fleeting glance of an animal, sheltering from the cold.

It is for this reason that we chose to take part in one of the ‘animal encounters’ being offered at the zoo. The most recently-launched encounter gives visitors the opportunity to hand-feed the zoo’s breeding herd of Rothschild Giraffes.

Some of the young giraffes at Flamingo Land

Some of the young giraffes at Flamingo Land

Head keeper Sam de Belle met us in the theme park’s Dino Stone area, where mock dinosaurs stand in pretend pens. She led us past a closed gate and into a part of the park rarely seen by the publc.

Heaving back a heavy door, we enter a large barn.

The first thing you notice is the warmth. Suddenly the temperature has risen and as our eyes adjust to the change in light, we notice several of these creatures loping over to greet us.

Whether because they associate us with food or through an innate curiosity, the giraffes are comfortable with human contact.

They move with such grace and slow, purposeful movements that their size is often under-estimated and it is only up close that the real grandeur can be appreciated.

Shying away in the background are a number of young giraffes, but their parents are unconcerned by our presence.

We head to the first floor - giraffe eye-level - and Sam hands us some pieces of carrot and cabbage, which George the giraffe quickly relieves us of.

With no upper teeth, it’s safe to feed giraffes by hand, and their docile and tactile nature means we get to experience a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with one of the natural world’s true wonders.