Researchers have been observing the animals' behavior for ages, but they don't know half their lives. That's what Anna Lena Burger says, and she should know, because she is an animal researcher working to increase knowledge about the missing half. Half the life is the night. Then the animals are among themselves, even in the zoo. "That's what is valuable," says the 35-year-old biologist. Because nocturnal behavior has only been so little researched, she sees her work as an "insane playground". After a few hours with burgers and the giraffes in the Opel Zoo, it is clear what the scientist means by this: the joy of her own work and the opportunity to let off steam scientifically. "More basic research is not possible," says Burger. In addition, she can rave about giraffe eyelashes that it is a pleasure to listen to her.

Florentine Fritzen

Correspondent in the Hochtaunuskreis

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On this winter's day, the behavioural scientist and her colleague Melina Kurzawe walk from the main entrance of Kronberg Zoo to the giraffe house. Kurzawe, 24 years old, observes the animals for her doctoral thesis. Burger is already a postdoc. Both belong to the endowed professorship Zoo Animal Biology of the Opel Zoo at the University of Frankfurt. The working group around chair holder Paul Dierkes has been researching wild animals in zoos and outdoors since 2014. In addition to the behavior of the animals, the scientists are also interested in their sounds and excretions. Data collection is not an end in itself. It is intended to improve animal husbandry and thus animal welfare. The money for the professorship, 100,000 euros a year, comes from the "von Opel Hessische Zoostiftung", which also supports the Opel Zoo.

The giraffes are the hobbyhorse

The biologists, both with long, open hair and thick winter jackets, enter the giraffe house. Burger smiles. "Katharina is already standing there and welcoming us." A giraffe stands very close to the window wall and looks through the pane to the visitors. Animals and humans meet each other approximately face to face, because the indoor enclosure is much lower than the visitors' gallery overgrown with green plants. Katharina, say the researchers, has been at the Opel Zoo for 15 years, very trusting and "a bit of the top dog". There are five giraffes. Catherine is one of the two Rothschild giraffes, a highly endangered subspecies. Hardly more than a thousand of these animals still live in nature. The other three animals in the enclosure with glass roof and wooden walls are reticulated giraffes. Their fur is reminiscent of a light brown net, while Katharina and Maud's dark brown puzzle pieces are more reminiscent of accurately arranged. The working group also researches other mammals. But the giraffes, says Burger, are the hobbyhorse.

She points to Katharina's bone suppositories, the two fur-covered humps between her ears. The suppositories of the five giraffes are of different lengths. Such traits help biologists to tell the animals apart. Research begins with distinguishing. On a metal bench at the edge of the enclosure sits a student sitting cross-legged, on her lap a tablet. A week ago she started her bachelor thesis. Meanwhile, she can tell Katharina and Maud, Wahia, Maja and Nike apart. Now it's about getting to know the behavior. On the screen, the student taps what a giraffe does: stand, lie down, move. Eating, ruminating, showing social behavior, miscellaneous.