Louisville, Ky. - A new baby Masai giraffe was born on Wednesday, July 21, at the Louisville Zoo.
At 11 p.m., 13-year-old Malaika gave birth to her fourth offspring—a 180-pound, 6 ½ foot male. The baby dropped 6-feet to the ground from his mother, who gave birth standing up. He stood for the first time within an hour of birth. Walker, age 17, is the father.
The new calf is named Oliver, a name chosen by the first keeper who discovered the birth. Although the calf’s mother Malaika showed strong maternal behaviors, Oliver was unsuccessful in learning to nurse within the first forty-eight hours, a critical time to pass on the mother’s immunity. The calf was given a plasma transfer intravenously to provide that immunity. Zoo Veterinarian Roy Burns explained that this procedure is commonly used under these circumstances and “greatly increases the calf’s ability to resist infection.” He added that “we will still keep a close eye on him as he will be more prone to infection.”
Because Oliver is not nursing, he will be bottle fed by the giraffe keepers. Lead giraffe keeper Silvia Zirkelbach described Oliver as “a very strong, active giraffe and quite feisty.” She and her staff have worked patiently with a rambunctious Oliver to train him to take milk from a bottle. He will be fed five times daily.
The new calf has been introduced to most of the other giraffes in the herd. According to Zirkelbach, Oliver will be on exhibit on a limited and flexible basis for some time pending weather and his feeding schedule. Those who are interested can see pictures and follow the baby’s progress on the Zoo’s website.
The Louisville Zoo has had a successful giraffe breeding program over the years and this calf is the 21st giraffe to be born at the Zoo. There are currently six Masai giraffes at the Louisville Zoo—the newborn calf, his mother Malaika and father Walker, as well as Crosby who was born this past January, and Bakari, born in February 2009.
This planned birth was a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Masai giraffe Population Management Plan (PMP), a cooperative animal management program that identifies population management goals and recommendations that will ensure the sustainability of a healthy, genetically diverse and demographically varied population. For more information on PMPs, visit http://www.aza.org/population-management-plan-programs/.
Giraffes are the tallest of land mammals and have single births after a gestation period of 14-16 months. Mothers give birth while standing and the young fall five to six feet upon delivery. Offspring are usually 6-feet tall at birth.
Male giraffes grow to be 15-18 feet tall and weigh 1,200-1,800 pounds. The signature long neck only has seven vertebrae, the same as most mammals. To counteract the demands of such a long neck, there are valves in the veins of the neck to prevent blood from rushing back too fast. They also have a massive heart (which is about 2 feet long and weighs about 25 pounds in adults) and extremely high blood pressure which is necessary to force blood up the seven or eight foot path to the brain.
The Louisville Zoo, a non-profit organization and state zoo of Kentucky, is dedicated to bettering the bond between people and our planet by providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for visitors, and leadership in scientific research and conservation education. The Zoo is accredited by the American Association of Museums (AAM) and by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).