What kinds of secrets are giraffes hiding in their DNA? What do they eat at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens? And just who is Duke the giraffe, anyway?
A new series of giraffe videos produced by Jacksonville University answers those questions and more – with a special appearance by the worldwide head of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.
They also engage viewers with some quirky local giraffes up close and personal. In addition to Duke, local father of 16 giraffes, viewers can meet Faraja as she enjoys munching on wax myrtle leaves, as well as other members of the herd, such as Spock and youngsters Forrest and Fiji, Duke’s two most recent offspring.
They are part of “The Science Of…,” a new online science and nature video magazine produced by JU in collaboration with the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. “The Science Of…,” which launched last fall, has produced videos on sea turtle conservation (at the Beaches), dinosaurs (at the Museum of Science and History), the St. Johns River (at JU’s Marine Science Research Institute), and giraffe conservation (at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens).
The idea behind the series is to build a resource of interesting videos that will be viewed by a wide range of people and used by teachers to connect learning with local nature, local activities, local research and local people in an engaging way.
So far, they seem to be a hit in classrooms and with experts. Stephanie Fennessy, a co-director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, which has posted a “Science Of…” video about giraffe genetics on its website, notified the Jacksonville Zoo that the video was “awesome!”
“Really well done and easy to understand why these results actually are important,” she said by email. “I would love to use it in some of our presentations, post a link on Facebook and our website. Such a great educational tool.”
Likewise, at the St. Johns Riverkeeper website, you can find “The Science Of…” videos on microplastics and algal blooms, which are used to highlight these problems and local efforts to understand and bring awareness to these issues.
Students in JU alumnus Chris Williams’ AP Biology and Environmental Science classes at St. Joseph Academy Catholic High School in St. Augustine have watched a number of the videos and give them high marks for being interesting and entertaining.
The videos are intended to bring science to the community in an easily digestible, interesting format
While the focus is local, the reach is global. The videos have begun gaining traction, with more than 3,000 views from more than 40 countries over the first six months.
Jill Sullivan, Coastal Sciences Department chair at Mayport Coastal Sciences Middle School, has shown “The Science of the St. Johns River: Plankton Sampling” videos to her students, which feature Melinda Simmons, JU assistant professor of Marine Science.
The students were in awe to actually know a ‘real’ scientist,” Sullivan said.
“The Science Of…” is a collaboration that includes JU faculty from science, art and music, with original music by faculty member Tony Steve and animations by Eric Kunzendorf and David Smith.
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens Conservation Program Officer Lucas Meers, a 2012 JU alumnus, is the lead for the conservation series, and Lee Ann Clements, associate provost, will be the lead for an art series, with science of glassblowing videos to come out later this year. Funding has come from JU’s Florida Entrepreneurism, Policy, Innovation and Commerce Program.
The giraffe video series, which went live Feb. 13, includes three webisodes (with lots of fun giraffe footage):
• “Four Species or One?” explains some basics about giraffes and where they live, highlights how species classification, including new DNA research, has important conservation implications, and what you can do to help save giraffes.
• “What Do They Eat?” gives a behind-the-scenes peek at preparing mixed herbs and alfalfa for the herd, and also highlights some of the plants the giraffes browse and graze on as they roam about their “African” savanna right here in Jacksonville. You can even watch Duke eat one of his favorite treats — an unpeeled banana.
• “Duke and his Family Tree” highlights the zoo’s giraffe family, including Duke and two of his 16 offspring.
In addition to the videos being housed at The Science Of… website (thescienceof.ju.edu), which also has companion guides and transcripts for the videos, they are also available through The Science Of… YouTube channel and the zoo’s website, and are being broadcast on monitors throughout the zoo.
Steve, JU faculty member and Artist-In-Residence of Contemporary & World Music, channeled an African theme as he created and performed the music for the giraffe videos in his home studio, while Anthony Akapnitis, a music major graduating this spring, recorded it. During the credits of “Duke and his Family Tree,” viewers get a glimpse of Steve playing the udu, an instrument that originated in Nigeria, a country where Northern giraffes have gone extinct.
Anthony Ouellette is a professor of biology at Jacksonville University.