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Monday, January 21 , 2019, 12:15 am | A Few Clouds 57º


Santa Barbara Zoo Celebrates Surprise Birth of Masai Giraffe

The male calf, born Jan. 9, will not be on view to the public for several weeks

Zookeepers at the Santa Barbara Zoo were somewhat surprised but certainly delighted to discover that one of the zoo’s new Masai giraffes, Audrey, had given birth to a male calf on Jan. 9.

The calf, named Daniel by donors, measured 5 feet 9 inches tall and 106 pounds. He will not be on view to the public for several weeks, until he learns to come in from the giraffe yard to the barn for feedings by keepers.

“Unbeknownst to us, Audrey arrived in Santa Barbara in March 2010 approximately five months pregnant,” said Sheri Horiszny, the zoo’s director of animal programs. “Nothing in her records indicated that Los Angeles Zoo keepers had ever seen their male showing interest in her or attempting to breed her.”

Unlike humans, determining pregnancy is not simple in giraffes, and her increase in weight was attributed to normal growth. There is no breeding season for giraffes, and females usually first mate around age 4. Gestation is 14 to 15 months.

“In addition to giraffe’s natural growth, it is likely a genetic defense strategy for animal mothers not to look pregnant to keep predators from singling them out,” Zoo Director Nancy McToldridge said.

In the wild, giraffe calf survival rates are about 25 percent; in captivity they are about 50 percent under the best of conditions.

“We have a very young, first-time mother making it even more challenging,” Horiszny said.

Audrey refused to nurse the young calf. Getting the first milk, containing colostrum, is very important for all mammals as it provides immunity for the calf until it can produce its own antibodies at 6 to 8 weeks old.

“Miraculously, we found a woman in town who had a goat in labor, and she was willing to milk it for us,” Horiszny said. “We gave our calf the goat colostrum, in hopes that it will help him stay healthy. He is now being bottle fed a combination of goat’s milk and cow colostrum, and will be on a bottle for about seven to eight months.”

The cow colostrum is now provided by Organic Pastures, a family-owned and operated organic raw dairy, farm and creamery located in the San Joaquin Valley near Fresno.

The public can help the zoo welcome Daniel by becoming a foster feeder sponsor of the giraffe herd. A tax-deductible donation of $50 helps with the cost of feeding Daniel and his family. New giraffe foster feeders receive a baby photo of Daniel along with a certificate, giraffe fact sheet and recognition on the zoo’s foster feeder board. Click here for more information.

— Julia McHugh is public relations director for the Santa Barbara Zoo.

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