It’s a name fit for a 5-foot-9, 145-pound male giraffe calf and, of course, a 15-year career-span football legend. The Dallas Zoo – which was named today as the nation’s 7th Best Zoo in the USA Today 10Best awards and our Simmons Hippo Outpost was voted as the 5th Best Zoo Exhibit – is paying tribute to one of the best tight ends in history, Jason Witten, by naming our giraffe calf after the retired football star.
“We’re shifting from our typical tradition of naming a baby after its native heritage to honor a Texas legend and all around great guy,” said Gregg Hudson, Dallas Zoo’s president and CEO. “Our zookeepers were the first ones to jump on this naming opportunity. We’re all huge fans of Jason, he’s a real role model – on the field and in our community.”
Witten was born on April 25 after a long two-and-a-half hour labor (giraffes usually labor and deliver within one to two hours). Second-time mom Chrystal successfully delivered the calf without intervention. Witten was standing, walking, and nursing within 45 minutes after birth.
Witten will make his public debut in the giraffe-feeding yard within the next one to two weeks (weather dependent, of course). He’ll be joined by mom Chrystal, other herd members – and maybe even Jason Witten and his family (the zoo said optimistically).
“One of the things we are proudly known for is our giraffe herd. From Animal Planet to Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, our giraffes have received a lot of limelight, so it’s fitting that we named our newest addition after one of football’s greatest,” said Harrison Edell, Dallas Zoo’s vice president of animal operations and welfare.
Witten’s father is Tebogo, one of the zoo’s most social and well-known residents. Tebogo is the only breeding male under the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Giraffe Species Survival Plan’s (SSP) program to ensure genetic diversity within endangered species. Tebogo also is the father of the last four calves born at the Zoo.
In the wild, giraffes are facing what conservationists call a “silent extinction.” There are fewer than 80,000 wild giraffes left – a 40% drop in the past 15 years. The Dallas Zoo cares for the reticulated giraffe sub-species; it’s estimated there are less than 8,700 left in the wild. The Dallas Zoo contributes greatly to giraffe conservation projects in Africa to help this species recover.