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Cheyenne Mountain Zoo welcomes latest arrival - its 199th newborn giraffe

By: Chhun Sun
April 26, 2017 Updated: April 27, 2017 at 7:30 am
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photo - The healthy giraffe calf that was successfully born overnight Wednesday at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo nuzzles up to mother Msitu and joins the herd of 16 on Wednesday April 26, 2017. The calf is the 199th successfully born calf to the the zoo and was the second offspring for mom, Msitu and third to be sired by dad, Khalid.  Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette
The healthy giraffe calf that was successfully born overnight Wednesday at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo nuzzles up to mother Msitu and joins the herd of 16 on Wednesday April 26, 2017. The calf is the 199th successfully born calf to the the zoo and was the second offspring for mom, Msitu and third to be sired by dad, Khalid. Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette  

The birth of Msitu's second offspring wasn't live-streamed to the entire world, but the staff of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo couldn't have asked for a better outcome.

About 6 a.m. Wednesday, the tall bundle of joy became the 199th giraffe to be born in the 63-year history of the zoo's breeding program, zoo officials said.

The calf's birth comes 11 days after a giraffe named April gave birth at the Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, N.Y. - a delivery that was broadcast online, attracting viewers from all over the world and bringing attention to giraffe conservation.

"We really hope that it does bring awareness to the plight of the giraffes in the wild and we think it is," Cheyenne Mountain Zoo marketing director Jenny Koch said, referring to April's pregnancy. "It is kind of something that's been under the radar for many years and now it's coming to light and people are starting to understand what they're facing in the wild."

Years of habitat destruction and poaching have reduced giraffe numbers by 30 percent, placing them in the vulnerable category for the first time, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the body that administers the world's official endangered species list.

Wednesday's birth did not get the same international attention, but Cheyenne Mountain Zoo officials were all smiles talking about their latest arrival.

The calf is Msitu's second, and the third to be sired by dad Khalid. Their first, Emy, was born in August 2013.

The infant joins 16 other giraffes at the zoo, which has had nearly 200 successful births since 1954 and has the largest reticulated giraffe herd of any zoo in the world, officials said. Amy Schilz, the zoo's animal care manager, joked that the success might be a product of the area's "fresh mountain air" but indicated that the zoo focuses on working with other zoos to develop ideas to improve animal care and hosts an annual workshop for other zookeepers to learn about breeding techniques.

The giraffes are part of the African Rift Valley exhibit near the zoo entrance, where visitors can feed the animals and pose for selfies with them.

Following zoo tradition, the calf will be named after he or she is 30 days old.

The healthy calf's official sex, height and weight is not known at this time, as zoo officials are holding off on getting the information to allow the mother and baby to get acquainted. Zoo officials said giraffe infants are usually 5- to 6-foot tall and weigh between 150 and 200 pounds, and this calf appears to be within those healthy parameters.

"Through this training, the zoo was able to voluntarily draw blood, confirming Msitu's ovulation at the time of breeding and ultimately, confirmed the pregnancy early on," the zoo said in a statement, noting that a giraffe's gestation time is about 15 or 16 months. "The zoo was able to get ultrasound images of the calf during the pregnancy with Msitu's cooperation, and they were even able to bank some of Msitu's plasma, in case the calf had needed it after birth." By Wednesday afternoon, the calf was seen with a slight wobble and slowly following its mom inside the zoo's giraffe barn. At one point, the calf froze and stared at a group of news cameras there to film its first movements in the world.

Also close by was Tamu, the calf's great grandmother who is known to have a "keen interest" in newborn giraffes, said Diana Cartier, a senior animal keeper.

To see how the calf behaves without close parental supervision, animal keepers distracted the mom by feeding her just a few feet away.

"We've been really able to monitor Msitu because she's so well trained and she works really well with the keepers," Schilz said. "Right now, we're going to take a hands-off approach and let Msitu do her thing. She's a really great mom and she does come up and approach keepers, so we've been able to get good looks at the baby."

The public may have a chance to see the giraffe Thursday, assuming the calf and mom remain in good health.

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