Big Baby Alert!
The Virginia Zoo is excited to announce the birth of a Masai giraffe calf on Sunday, June 4. The female giraffe calf was born to five-time mother Imara and father Billy. At birth, the calf weighed in at 149 pounds and measured in at 5 feet, 11 inches tall. Imara was in labor for two hours on Sunday and gave birth while Zoo visitors watched from the observation windows in Africa – Okavango Delta exhibit. Giraffes give birth standing up, so newborns get an abrupt introduction to the world by dropping up to 6 feet to the ground. The calf could stand and walk within the first few hours after birth.
Zoo staff is monitoring the calf’s health and will keep the public posted on her well-being. Shortly after birth, it became evident that the calf was born with a birth defect called carpal laxity, where her front limbs appear to bow slightly backwards as she walks. This condition is not uncommon in puppies, foals, piglets, and other domestic animals and has been reported in giraffe calves. The exact cause of the defect is unknown and it is not a painful condition. “The calf is bright, alert and strong. More importantly, she has been observed suckling from her mother, Imara, and is able to move around her stall quite well.” said Dr. Colleen Clabbers, the Zoo’s Veterinarian. “Imara is an experienced and attentive mother and we’re optimistic that she’ll do a great job. Many of these calves grow out of this condition, but there are those calves that may need support and assistance as they grow. Since this calf is strong and has been getting adequate nutrition, we are hopeful that she will continue to thrive with her mother’s care. Improvement or resolution could take several weeks to months. We are monitoring her closely and collaborating with our veterinary and zoo partners to ensure that she is a happy, healthy giraffe.”
The calf has not yet been named, but a naming competition will likely be underway in the coming weeks. Mom and baby can be viewed by Zoo visitors at the indoor giraffe exhibit in Africa. As the calf is observed to be acclimating and developing well, both mom and calf will be given access to the main exhibit so the baby can begin to explore her surroundings.
This birth is a significant contribution to the North American population of Masai Giraffe as there are only approximately 100 in North America. “This birth is not only important to the Species Survival Plan (SSP), but contributes greatly to the Zoo’s role of an educational institution for adult and children visitors alike,” said Greg Bockheim, Executive Director of the Virginia Zoo. The Virginia Zoo is committed to these large and charismatic species from captive management to field conservation.
About Masai Giraffe
Masai giraffe are the largest subspecies of giraffe and the tallest land mammal on Earth. They are native to Kenya and Tanzania and are characterized by their jagged spots. Males reach heights of up to 18 feet tall and females grow to 14 feet tall. Giraffes may bear one offspring after a 15 month gestation period. When a giraffe baby is born, it comes into the world front feet first, followed by the head, neck, and shoulders. Newborn giraffe can stand and walk within one hour of birth. They can also eat leaves at the age of four months, but continue to nurse until they are 6 to 9 months old.