The project began after Safari West in Santa Rosa offered Fresno's body to biology instructor Nick Anast after the 9-year-old animal's unexpected death in January 2009.
Not one to turn down material for zoology and anatomy classes, Anast agreed. Then came the challenge of figuring out what do with a dead, 2,000-pound giraffe.
It look Anast and fellow instructor Robert Rubin three days just to remove Fresno's flesh. Next they let nature take over, burying the bones in a pile of steer manure for six months to allow bacteria to eat away the sinew.
Still, weeks of washing the remains with Safeway laundry detergent and brightening them with peroxide were required to get the bones clean and white.
Work finally began on rebuilding Fresno's skeleton this summer with major parts of the project done by students such as Aaron Karres, a general contractor and carpenter, whose handiness gave Anast the confidence to undertake the intricacies of the project.
Bones come with a difficulty factor not found in normal construction projects, Karres said. Unlike building new homes and remodeling kitchens, reconstructing legs and knees is full of unusual angles with no easy frame of reference or plans to follow, he said. They used a cow as a guide.
But at its essence, the project wasn't that much different than carpentry, he said.
"It's joinery," said Karres, who volunteered for the project out of curiosity and the desire to do something to inspire others. "The techniques used to do these things are pretty universal."
It could be daunting at first, though. Kristina Cassidy, who led construction of the oryx and of a mountain lion skeleton, said when she got her first bucket of bones she was trying to connect tail bones with chest bones.
Ultimately she breathed life into both animals. The lion is crouched with jaws agape, ready to kill. The oryx stares out like something has just disturbed its grazing.