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More Baby Giraffes Expected at Santa Barbara Zoo

Betty Lou and Audrey are both pregnant, with the first calf likely to appear before the new year

Betty Lou and Audrey — the female Masai giraffes who make their home at the Santa Barbara Zoo — are eating for two these days, as both are expecting calves, one of which could be born at any time.

Audrey most likely will give birth sometime before the new year begins, according to Sheri Horiszny, the zoo's director of animal care, who knows the giraffes well and has already seen them through their first births.

Horiszny oversees 30 people who care for the zoo's 500 animals, of which there are 146 species.

Horiszny gave each of the giraffes several nutritional biscuits on Monday as a treat, and the two, ever eager for a snack, huddled on the other side of their enclosure.

They waited for Horiszny to extend her hand, from which snacks were lapped up by Audrey and Betty Lou's extended purple tongues.

Audrey and Betty Lou both gave birth last year, and their offspring 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.

The male that sired the calves — Michael, a 2,700-pound giraffe who is expected to reach 17 feet in height — was seen loping around the animal enclosure Monday as zoo visitors watched the three animals.

It's difficult for a bystander to tell the female giraffes are pregnant, and Horiszny said that's for a reason.

Sheri Horiszny, director of animal care at the Santa Barbara Zoo, feeds pregnant Masai giraffes Betty Lou and Audrey at the back of their yard enclosure Monday. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

"If these animals advertise they're about to give birth on the savannah, they'd have lions following them around," she said.

Giraffes remain completely mobile throughout the 14-plus months of gestation, and the birth itself will likely take three to four hours.

With Audrey's previous pregnancy, zookeepers did not know she was carrying a calf until she was in labor, and the calf's front hooves were seen protruding out of her body, Horiszny said

Calves are born front hooves first, and the 6-foot drop from the mother's body to the ground actually serves a physiological purpose, helping to sever the umbilical cord and get the animal to begin breathing on its own.

Zookeepers aren't exactly sure when Audrey will give birth because they aren't sure when she conceived.  

Closed-circuit video cameras are trained on the giraffe's yard and barn enclosures, so if the giraffe suddenly goes into labor, staff will be alerted.

"It's a big window of time," Horiszny said.

Betty Lou's calf will likely be born the first week of March.

In the meantime, staff have adjusted the giraffes' food to adhere a slightly more high-protein diet, and are diligent to separate the animals during meals — Michael has been known to steal food — so the females get enough to eat.

They've also outfitted the giraffe barn with padded walls to help protect the babies after they are born.

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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