The Clovis zoo’s newest arrival was somewhat of a surprise to zoo staff.
Jael the Giraffe gave birth at around 9 p.m. Wednesday night to a 6-foot female baby. Her father is Jay, who died Feb. 3 at the zoo, 2011, as a result of a fall on an icy sidewalk.
“It’s a miracle in the first place, because the gestation period for a giraffe is 15 months,” Clovis Parks and Recreation Director Bill Bizzell said. “If you put a pencil to it, it’s about 15 months from when we got Jay.”
Jay arrived in Clovis Oct. 10, 2010 — 15 months and two weeks before Jael gave birth. He was purchased for $31,500 from International Animal Exchange — nearly half paid through a donation by Citizens Bank. Zoo officials wanted him specifically to breed with Jael, but feared the mating never took place in the three months between Jay’s arrival and death.
“Looks like he took care of business right away,” quipped Clovis Mayor Gayla Brumfield, who visited the new arrival Thursday morning.
Zoo staff had suspicions Jael was pregnant for the last couple of months, Bizzell said, but not due to a “baby bump” visual.
“Her udders had begun to grow,” Bizzell said. “The sacs were enlarged, so that gave them an idea.”
Suspicions are tough to confirm, and zoos worldwide have received surprise giraffe births, partly because there’s no reliable pregnancy test for a 1,500-pound giraffe.
“I don’t think we have anybody in the area that’s qualified to do that; I think the nearest place with anybody staffed to do that is in El Paso,” Bizzell said. “You can’t just send anybody in to do that type of test on those animals.”
Once zoo staff suspects a zoo animal is pregnant, the next step is to call an area veterinarian to get instructions about specific pre-natal care.
While the zoo is only open 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, at least one staffer is on the premises 24 hours a day to check on the animals.
“They saw her pacing, in an antsy state,” Bizzell said. “Then a hoof appeared.”
The zoo was closed Thursday due to the birth — Bizzell noted stress to the mother and a zoo staff worn out from essentially pulling an all-nighter.
The still-unnamed baby will not be available for public viewing until further notice — Bizzell said it could be well past Tuesday — because there are still concerns over how the two will get along. Jael kicked the baby soon after it dropped and zookeepers removed it from the pen to ensure its safety.
“She was very aggressive,” Bizzell said. “We gave her plenty of opportunity to bond with the baby, and she would have nothing to do with it. This is not an uncommon thing, we’ve been told.”
Without a bond formed, the mother will not nurse the baby and zoo staff will have to bottle-feed. She’s currently being fed with cow’s milk acquired from a local dairy.
Brumfield said city officials will consider a contest to name the baby, but no specific plans are set.
The baby giraffe born Wednesday night was Hillcrest Zoo’s first exotic animal birth, according to Clovis Parks and Recreation Director Bill Bizzell.
Bizzell said the zoo contacted an exotic animal facility who told them the first 48 to 72 hours are a critical time for the newborn, who will be kept under wraps for a few days.
The baby giraffe is being bottle fed with colostrum from a local dairy.
Newborn giraffe are born almost 6 feet tall and weigh 100 to 165 pounds. They can usually walk and run within an hour after birth.
In the first year, they can double in height. They reach 14 to 17 feet in adulthood, and weigh 1,200 to 3,900 pounds, depending on gender.
Giraffe have short labors that last 2 3/4 to 5 hours. Their calves are born feet first, just like cattle. The head appears next, followed by the neck.
Female giraffe stand to birth their young, dropping them almost 6 feet to the ground, a process that breaks the umbilical cord.
Male and female giraffe are born with a set of horns that lie flat against their heads, but stand up within a few days of birth.
Infants drink mother’s milk for nine to 12 months and consume 10 percent to 20 percent of their body weight in milk daily.
Like cattle, giraffe are vegetarians who ruminate, or chew their cud. Baby giraffes begin ruminating and eating solid food around the age of 4 months. They feed on leaves, buds, fruit, vines and shrubs.
When it comes to life expectancy, captivity favors the giraffe. In the wild, predators such as hyena, crocodiles and wild dogs prevent 60 percent of calves from reaching their first birthday. Captivity greatly increases a newborn giraffe’s chance of survival. Some live up to 25 years in captivity.
If you were taking a grown giraffe for a walk, you would have to run. Each giraffe step is 15 feet long. Despite the fact that their front legs are 10 percent longer than their hind legs, giraffes manage to reach 35 mph when forced to flee from predators.
While captive giraffe mate around the age of 4, wild giraffe hook up between 6 and 7.
The giraffe defends itself by kicking with its bowl-sized feet, or swinging its long neck and striking with its head.
Home sweet home
Native to Africa, the giraffe is the tallest of all land mammals.
Sources: giraffeworlds.com, Giraffe husbandry manual online by Lorraine Jolly,
Clovis Parks and Recreation Director Bill Bizzell