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Baby Giraffe Named Buttercup Born at Santa Barbara Zoo

The male Masai calf, named by zoo donors, is the offspring of 6-year-old Audrey

A baby giraffe named Buttercup now calls the Santa Barbara Zoo home, and officials there announced the calf was born on Thursday afternoon in the zoo's giraffe barn.

Buttercup, a Masai giraffe, was born Thursday afternoon at the Santa Barbara Zoo. (Santa Barbara Zoo photo)

Though small now at about 6 feet, Buttercup will get much, much bigger.

Giraffes are the tallest land mammal, and Masai giraffes like Buttercup are the tallest sub-species and can grow up to 17 feet tall, weighing 2,700 pounds.

The male calf was born at 1:45 p.m., and attempted to stand up about 15 minutes after he was born, but needed human help to get him to his feet when he continued to slip on the barn's muddy surface, according to Julia McHugh, zoo spokeswoman.

The calf's 6-year-old mother, Audrey, has given birth to three babies in four years, and the pair are off exhibit for now as Buttercup nurses and grows.

He will remain in the giraffe barn and is slated to have his first medical exam on Friday, McHugh said.

"His height, weight and general health will be assessed by the zoo’s veterinarian, Dr. Julie Barnes, who will also determine when he will be able to leave the barn," she said.

Zoo Director Nancy McToldridge said the staff had been preparing for the birth.

“Everything went smoothly, even when Buttercup needed to be moved to a drier spot in order to stand up," she said.

Thursday's birth and successful nursing of the calf came as welcome news to zoo staff. 

In 2011, Audrey came to the zoo pregnant, to the surprise of her keepers, and gave birth to a calf donors named Daniel. 

At the time, Audrey was not quite 3 years old, which is young for a giraffe to give birth, McHugh said, and refused to nurse, so Daniel was hand-reared by zoo staff.

Daniel died in October 2012 after being anesthetized for a dental procedure to treat an abscess and infection in his lower left jaw. Though his procedure had gone well, he went into respiratory arrest and could not be revived, McHugh said.

The zoo's other female giraffe, Betty Lou, is also expecting a calf, which most likely will be born in March.

Audrey and Betty Lou both gave birth last year, and their offspring, Dane and Sunshine, have been shipped to zoos in Waco, Texas, and Phoenix, Ariz., to continue the breeding program that helps ensure animals such as the Masai giraffe maintain numbers that preserve their genetic diversity.

Both calves were sired by Michael, a 2,700-pound male giraffe that has been at the zoo since 2012, and is very valuable since he is not related to any U.S. giraffe other than his calf, Sunshine.

“I’m very proud of our sire Michael, as he’s now clearly a proven breeder, and his genetics greatly help the diversity of our Masai population," said Sheri Horiszny, who works as the zoo's director of animal care

There are just over 100 Masai giraffes in captivity in North America, so "birth and each giraffe is very important,” Horiszny said.

The Masai species is at risk due to poaching and habitat loss, and the Santa Barbara Zoo has made a transition from exhibiting Baringo giraffes to showcasing Masai giraffes, as part of a regional giraffe management program with other West Coast zoos, including those in Los Angeles and San Diego, McHugh said.

This allows the zoos to maximize the genetic diversity within the sub-species, while minimizing distances giraffes have to be transported. 

Buttercup was named by zoo donors Amy and Jeff Pryor after the childhood nickname of one of their children, McHugh said.

The public can also chip into help as well, and for $50 can become a Buttercup Foster Feeder, helping supply food for the animals. More information can be found at the zoo's website by clicking here.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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