How much does a giraffe cost?

Director´s view

Miroslav Bobek  |  14. 12. 2019

Tying in with this year’s 65th anniversary of the arrival of the first giraffe in Prague Zoo, I posted a small note on social networks as a reminder. The text of the note was originally published in National Policy in 1937. That means it was written seventeen years before the Masai Giraffe named Lenka ended her long journey from Kenya with her arrival at the railway station in Bubny in 1954 - not only was she the first giraffe in our zoo, she was also the first giraffe in Czechoslovakia. The author, signed with the cipher -ok- in that eventful year of 1937, complained that, although negotiations on the purchase of the giraffe had already taken place in the autumn of the previous year, Prague would not see its arrival immediately. “Giraffes are very expensive,” he noted, “and construction (of the enclosure) would be expensive”. As we now know, he was spot on.

Photo: Khalil Baalbaki Photo: Khalil Baalbaki

With that notice, I wanted to illustrate how complicated it was to build our zoo. Despite my original intention, however, I mainly provoked the question of how much a giraffe cost then and how much it costs today. It is not easy to answer, but let’s have a go.

Searching through the newspapers of the time gave me an inkling of giraffe prices in the 1930s. Very high. Only the hippo and the rhino were more expensive than the giraffe. In 1937, a giraffe “unaccustomed to the European climate” cost 120,000 crowns and a giraffe “raised in Europe” was as much as 220,000 crowns. At the same time, an Indian elephant cost 60,000 crowns. One other comparison: a pint of beer cost one crown, fifty hellars at the time.

Today’s giraffe prices are completely different. They continue to be traded in some places (for example, in South Africa they cost between 11 and 14 thousand Rands, or tens of thousands of crowns), but the serious zoos no longer assign them a monetary value. Incidentally, this applies to almost all animal species that are kept in facilities associated in the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA). Formally, these animals do have owners, but their movement between zoos is free of charge. For many species - including giraffes – it is done on the recommendation of the relevant European coordinator. The coordinator issues its recommendations so that it is in the best interests of the entire population bred by EAZA members.

But even if we ignore this fact, for a long time giraffe breeding has been so successful in European zoos that they are rather abundant. Thus, unlike in the distant past, the price of a giraffe is not a major issue. In contrast, it is infinitely more demanding (and expensive) to create suitable conditions for them. It is no longer enough to simply have an enclosure and cramped winter stabling, as it once was. In Central European conditions, it is necessary to build a breeding facility costing tens of millions of crowns and then operate it. Thus, for example, the cost of importing high-quality alfalfa from France is a marginal item in the total annual budget for giraffe breeding. Times have changed a lot.