Zookeeper Joeri Werbrouck feeds a carrot to Valerie, a 6-year-old reticulated giraffe who is more than 14 months pregnant. (Photos by Max Hrenda/Johnson City Press)
One of the animals at Washington County’s only zoo is expecting a baby any day, but zookeepers said it would be a “stretch” to determine when that day would arrive.
Valerie, a 6-year-old reticulated giraffe, will be delivering a baby boy or girl “any day now,” according to zookeepers at Bright’s Zoo, located at 3425 Highway 11E in Limestone.
Zoo Director David Bright said the typical giraffe gestation period lasts somewhere between 14 and 15 months. Recently, Valerie passed the 14-month mark, which Bright said means she’s likely to deliver at any point in the near future.
“We’ve got to be super, super close,” Bright said. “For the past three days, we’ve been getting up thinking we’re going to see a baby giraffe. It has been exciting. But each day we go up there and it’s not the day.”
Although the due date is uncertain, Bright said giraffes usually display certain telltale signs that a birth is imminent.
“They typically won’t produce milk until about 24 hours before birth,” he said. “Her milk bag will start to get real big. When she’s super, super close, all of her teats will point forward.”
When the day does arrive, Bright said he and his staff will be prepared. In his 15 years of keeping giraffes, Bright has seen three other giraffes born at the zoo. Although staff will be on hand to oversee the delivery, Bright said that usually, giraffe births don’t require much in the way of human assistance.
“Once she starts laboring and you start to see a hoof, typically within 30 minutes to an hour the baby is on the ground,” Bright said.
Upon birth, the baby will fall approximately 6 feet to the ground, with enough force to burst through the embryonic sack and sever the umbilical cord. After her birthing, Valerie will then spend some time getting to know her new calf.
“Within the first 20 minutes, the mom will clean the baby really good and, within 30 minutes, they should be standing,” Bright said. “Within the hour, we’ll make sure it’s nursing.”
Because Valerie will be a first-time mom, Bright said, the birth itself will be closed off to the public to avoid giving her any additional anxiety. After the calf is born, cleaned and nursed, however, the area around the giraffe pen will be re-opened to allow all the patrons to catch a glimpse of the new arrival.
Once the calf is born, it will become the fourth giraffe in the zoo’s care, joining Valerie, another female and a male. Bright said the giraffe would remain part of the zoo’s family for “at least” one year and, depending on its gender, perhaps longer.
“If it’s a female ... we’ll keep it here a lot longer than that,” he said. “If it’s a male, we’ll look to see if there’s a zoo looking for a male giraffe and we’ll keep it a year or one-and-a-half years or so.”
When two male giraffes are kept in close proximity, Bright said, they have a tendency to fight for the right to be the “big bull.” If the baby turns out to be a male, he will have to find a new home.
The calf’s gender won’t be known, of course, until it is born. Though Bright said it was difficult to predict when Valerie may give birth, he estimated that by the end of this month, the new calf will have arrived.
To keep up with Valerie’s status online, visit the zoo’s website at BrightsZoo.com, or its Facebook page at facebook.com/BrightsZoo.
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