BROUSSARD — Unlike the fictional characters in Longfellow’s epic poem of lovers separated on their wedding day amid the Acadian diaspora, this Gabriel and Evangeline will get their happily ever after — or a symbolic one, at least — on Sunday.
The invitations are out for Acadiana residents to attend the 1 p.m. Sunday “wedding” ceremony of Gabriel, the Zoo of Acadiana’s friendly 16-foot giraffe, and Evangeline, the 14-foot new girl in the habitat.
Gabriel has waited a long time for a mate, said Fran Daigle, the zoo’s animal curator.
Evangeline’s arrival in October from the Tanganyika Wildlife Park in Goddard, Kan., was a longtime goal that was fulfilled with the help of donations from the community and the zoo’s membership, Daigle said.
“We felt a celebration was in order,” Daigle said of the wedding ceremony. “We wanted to celebrate with the community and all our members that we realized our goal.”
Spots in the wedding party come at a price, but free of bridezilla worries. The zoo is auctioning off on its website spots for bridesmaids, groomsmen, usher, maid of honor, best man and even honorary godparent duties.
An ordained minister will officiate the nuptials under the boughs of the water oaks hungrily, and surely, lovingly, trimmed by the groom.
The bride is still taste-testing bouquets but is expected to carry an arrangement crafted of bamboo, alfalfa hay and apples cut into flower shapes. The couple is registered at Ranch Outlet, where the zoo purchases the couple’s protein-rich alfalfa hay.
Tickets are required for the event, which is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Music by the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra begins at 12:50 p.m.
Gabriel, who turns 8 in July, was acquired from a zoo in New Jersey when he was 7 months old and has grown up surrounded by frequent visitors. His caretakers say he enjoys all of the attention.
Tuesday morning, the animal quickly walked to the fence to greet Daigle and peer down at his new visitors. Evangeline stayed in a corner of the habitat until Gabriel followed a visiting photojournalist over to a feeding tower to get a closer look at his cameras.
Evangeline is a reticulated giraffe, meaning the pattern on her is reticulated or looks like a net. In comparison to Gabriel, she’s petite, even at about 14 feet tall.
As she galloped around the habitat Tuesday, her hoofs delicately and noiselessly hit the ground.
While Gabriel’s origin is unknown, Daigle said he resembles a Rothschild giraffe, an endangered species named for the late British zoologist Walter Rothschild.
During Tuesday’s visit, Gabriel followed Evangeline around the habitat, taking long walking strides as she gracefully galloped across the ground.
The two bonded in October at first sniff — though the first sight of Evangeline seemed to confuse Gabriel, who gave a “what’s that?” look at his first sight of the female giraffe, recalled Brittney Dyess, head zookeeper.
Daigle laughed at the memory. “He thought he wore a uniform and looked like us,” Daigle said.
To prepare for the female giraffe’s arrival, the zoo divided Gabriel’s habitat with fencing to pull in a trailer and unload Evangeline and give them time to acclimate to each other. After Evangeline’s removal from the trailer, a curious Gabriel began reaching his neck over the fence for a closer look and sniff, Dyess recalled.
After Evangeline moved toward the fence, Gabriel reached his neck out.
“Then, it was full-on kissy-face,” Daigle said.
If possible, Gabriel has even more bravado now, they said.
“His attitude is huge now. He’s like, ‘That’s my girlfriend — fiancée,’ ” Dyess said.
Evangeline is more shy, but the two continue to get along, especially when their instincts take over.
“We have seen many breeding rituals. It’s spring,” Daigle said with a laugh.
And Gabriel’s wooing of Evangeline has been interesting to watch, she said.
“It does involve dancing. He walks around her, almost like he’s dancing very close around her. He looks up high and stands very close to her,” she said.
Then, the two link necks. What comes next — well, some folks ask for advice on how to PhotoShop that part out of pictures, Daigle said.
The mating hasn’t been fruitful yet, she said.
Evangeline has been a mother before, but parenting will be another first for Gabriel.
“We’re ready,” Daigle said.