Dallas Zoo North Savanna Assistant Supervisor Allison Dean, and Giraffe Keeper II Jessica Romano guest blog on ZooHoo!
It’s always exciting when we are expecting a new giraffe calf, but once that little… well, big bundle of joy is here, it takes a lot of work to integrate them into the herd. While giraffes are herd animals that live in large groups called “towers,” it’s important for mom and calf to have some private time in those first couple of days. Here at the Zoo, Chrystal and Witten spent their first days in our maternity stall away from the inquisitive herd. This area is filled with sand that helps newborns find sturdy footing as they learn to walk and keep up with mom. It also allows for uninterrupted bonding between mom and baby.
Once the calf is nursing well and is bonded with mom, we begin the process of introducing them to the rest of the herd. First up, our oldest giraffe, Auggie. His gentle nature, extreme tolerance, and protective personality makes him the go-to guy for babysitting when mom needs a break. Some individuals need more introduction time than others. Younger giraffes, like three-year-old Betty, are often more curious and can inadvertently be a bit of a bother to mom while she’s in protective-mommy mode. It’s all a normal part of herd dynamics and learning social behaviors for everyone, not just the new calf. The progress of the introductions is always on mom’s terms. After introductions are complete, it’s time to head out to a whole new world – the giraffe feeding habitat.
Learning to shift from the barn to the habitat can take a bit of work. Sometimes calves learn this process quickly and other times they need a little extra encouragement from mom to get over those first day jitters. Little by little, the calves get used to their new surroundings and make their way out to the habitat.
It’s hard to believe that Witten will be two months old next week. Seems like just yesterday he was taking his first steps and now he makes regular trips to the giraffe feeding habitat like a pro (or a pro-football player, *nudge nudge*). He’s sprouted up to 7 feet tall and weighs nearly 250 pounds! Those lanky legs are good for running post routes around the trees (and his mom). We’re sure Witten would spike the ball if he could carry one, but he usually just turns loose a high kick and a stomp to signify the completion of his run.
Witten has already made an impression and has become a great ambassador for his reticulated giraffe sub-species – it’s estimated there are less than 8,700 left in the wild. Giraffe populations are undergoing what conservationists call a “silent extinction” – the species is already extinct in at least seven African countries. They are currently listed as vulnerable to extinction due to a 40-percent population decline in the past 15 years with fewer than 80,000 wild giraffes left. Human encroachment on their habitat has led to significant conflict and poaching.
On June 21, we celebrate World Giraffe Day to bring awareness to the issues facing this amazing species. Our partners at the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) work tirelessly in the field every day to protect these majestic animals. We’re proud to help fund GCF’s efforts to monitor giraffes and remove snares in Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda, home to more than 90 percent of the wild population of the Rothschild’s giraffe sub-species.
PS: It’s also National Selfie Day today, so we highly suggest you make a trip out to snap a selfie with our giraffes!