Whenever I get close to a giraffe — actually I’ve done it just once in the last 69 years — I notice I act more like a kid.
Instead of dismissing the comment as corny, I laughed the other day when another kid said a giraffe’s favorite fruit is a neck-tarine.
When a giraffe sticks out his tongue — it’s almost 2 feet long — I find it impossible to not stick out my tongue.
So it went the other day after I drove just past the M Resort on St. Rose Parkway to visit Henderson’s nonprofit Lion Habitat Ranch, where Ozzie Picasso, the wonderfully goofy 13-foot-tall artistic giraffe, resides along with 38 lions and a good number of ostriches, emus, cockatoos and macaws.
It was nippy outside and I couldn’t help wondering what would happen if 2 1/2 -year- old Ozzie came down with a 5-foot-long sore throat and cough.
Surely it would wreak havoc with the way he holds a paint brush in his mouth with his long tongue and then whips his head around to produce abstracts on canvas almost as compelling as Jackson Pollock’s.
But to Keith Evans, the owner of the ranch that may well be the best Las Vegas attraction you’ve never been to, the thought of Ozzie with a cold means far more than a giraffe’s lack of artistic production.
It could mean pneumonia and death to an animal beloved both by kids in strollers and kids old enough to get into the movies on a senior citizen’s discount.
Just how serious Evans is about keeping Ozzie warm is illustrated by the more than $700 a week he’s spending on two kerosene-fueled heaters to keep the giraffe comfortable in an uninsulated barn that’s more than 25 feet tall.
Worried retirement money he uses to keep the ranch running is in jeopardy, Evans, along with volunteers at the ranch, asked managers with Home Depot if they could donate plywood and insulation to help keep the cold out. Within a couple 0f days last week, Home Depot made about $4,000 worth of plywood and insulation available.
“We want to help the community on worthy projects when we can,” said Home Depot supervisor Jonathan Robinson.
Saying he is “incredibly thankful” for what Home Depot has done, Evans, who’s putting in the plywood and insulation himself, is now in the midst of raising about $20,000 for an electrical/ heating system for Ozzie’s barn that will keep the temperature at about 70 degrees during the winter.
Up until a few months ago Ozzie could live in a smaller, temperature-controlled barn for the winter.
But he grew 5 feet in less than a year.
Though he’s expected to grow to at least 18 feet within the next couple years, Evans said the barn he’s now weatherizing will remain large enough for him through adulthood.
Evans was the man who provided the lions to the former lion habitat at MGM Grand. Though MGM’s lion attraction closed in 2012, Evans’ Lion Habitat Ranch has taken good care of the cats for the past four years.
The giraffe came to Las Vegas in September 2014 from a Kansas sanctuary as part of Evans’ desire to expand the nature of his habitat.
Because Kansas is recognized for “The Wizard of Oz,” Evans called the then 7-month-old, 8-foot-tall giraffe Ozzie.
He enjoys using his tongue to take carrots from Evans’ lips.
“You like this game, don’t you,” Evans said to Ozzie as the giraffe tongued away another carrot.
Since Evans taught Ozzie to paint about a year ago — “we give him treats when he uses the brush the right way” — volunteers and employees at the habitat have begun to call him Ozzie Picasso.
Like Pablo Picasso, Ozzie Picasso loves applause.
When Ozzie finishes a piece of art, he nods his head repeatedly when people clap.
Unlike Pablo Picasso, however, Ozzie Picasso seems far less temperamental.
Where art critics say Pablo was prone to bouts of jealousy and unfaithfulness, Evans says Ozzie is faithful, particularly if he receives treats of mulberry leaves and carrots.
Needing only about two hours’ sleep a day, Ozzie’s grown fast on a diet of hay, vegetables and mulberry leaves.
Wearing a parka that would have been right at home in Alaska on a recent 50 degree day in Las Vegas, Evans says he can’t wait for the hotter weather.
And he said he’s sure Ozzie feels the same way.
After all, like all giraffes his long tongue is black to protect it from sunburn.
Paul Harasim’s column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Friday in the Nevada section and Monday in the Life section. Contact him at email@example.com or 702-387-5273. Follow @paulharasim on Twitter.