A University of Nebraska-Lincoln organization that brings engineering and design students together has partnered with the Lincoln Children’s Zoo to enrich the lives of the zoo’s giraffes.

UNL’s Theme Park Design Group designed and built colorful feeding tools and toys for the zoo’s three new giraffes — Phoebe, Allie and Joey.

Giraffe keeper Nikki Shemanski told Nebraska Today that giraffes only sleep about an hour a day and spend around 20 hours eating. She said it’s critical to their well-being to engage in sensory activities. Their 18-to-20-inch tongues also need exercise, so it’s important the feeders make them work for their food.

Senior mechanical engineering major Zoe Jirovsky said the project was challenging because they didn’t know if the giraffes were going to respond. Aesthetic and safety requirements for the materials also limited the design plans.

“We had to make sure anything we did used materials that are safe for the giraffes,” John Strope, a sophomore mechanical engineering major and founder of the group, said in a Nebraska Today article. “For example, certain species of wood are toxic to giraffes. We’re working from a list of approved substances.”

The group designed five toys to serve several purposes, including a spoon feeder, treat box, log feeder, hose mobile and wind chime. After meeting with Shemanski, the group might make some modifications or even design more items.

“Everything looks really great, and we’re going to have a lot of fun with these,” Shemanski said.

The students’ project is part of a zoo expansion that has been developing since 2017. When it opens on May 10, the zoo will include a world-class giraffe feeding experience, an up-close tiger encounter, an indoor adventure where children can climb with monkeys and a plaza with a splash stream, according to the zoo’s website.