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Big baby: Newborn giraffe adjusts to life at Bright's Zoo

August 11th, 2014 10:47 pm by Max Hrenda

Big baby: Newborn giraffe adjusts to life at Bright's Zoo

Valerie the giraffe, who measures between 15 and 17 feet tall, stands next to her 4-day old giraffe, which stands at 6 feet. (Photo contributed by David Bright)

LIMESTONE — Although zookeepers have lingering concerns over his diet, overall, they said the baby giraffe that was delivered less than a week ago is doing well.

On Thursday at Bright’s Zoo, 3425 U.S. Highway 11E, Valerie the giraffe gave birth to her 6-foot male calf after more than 14 months of pregnancy.

After the baby’s birth — which took Valerie almost two hours — Zoo Director David Bright said he was concerned about the state of the relationship between mother and calf.

“She did just go through an hour-and-a-half-long labor,” Bright said. “There probably was some pain. And she’s a first-time mom; if she had two or three babies ... we wouldn’t have been concerned.”

He added, however, that after spending the past several days in close quarters together, the bond between mother and son has grown.

“They’re getting along really well,” he said. “If he goes inside the barn and she’s outside, she has gone in to check on him. She knows where he is at all times. That’s a relief.”

Valerie might also be receiving some parenting advice from the zoo’s other female giraffe, Benta, who had previously bore two children herself.

“From the second this baby was born, (Benta) has shown a lot of interest,” Bright said. “She’ll come over and clean it. She’s constantly checking on that baby.”

While the baby may not be lacking for attention, Bright said he and keepers were concerned that he may be lacking in nutrition.

“We’ve not actually gotten to see him physically nurse,” he said. “We know, with him being strong, getting up and down and walking around, that obviously he has nursed. Our concern is how often he’s nursing (and) how much he’s getting.”

To assuage those concerns, the zoo commissioned a blood test for the calf to look at indicators, like his protein levels, to determine if the calf had been nursing enough. By Monday evening, Bright said, the test results indicated that he had.

“He was doing well on protein, which was (a) big part of (the) test,” Bright said.

Apart from concerns over his nursing, Bright said the calf exhibited all the usual signs of a newborn giraffe. Despite the normalcy of his behavior, Bright said the newborn would be kept under close watch, and close confines, until he grew stronger.

“He has gotten to spend a lot of time outside in the last two days, but we’re probably several days away from where he’ll get the whole giraffe yard,” Bright said. “We want to make sure he’s really strong before we ever allow him to go that far. Plus, that keeps him and mom close together, and gives them longer to bond.”

Along with growing strong, the young giraffe will also be doing exactly that — growing. While the calf stands at 6 feet tall, within a year, Bright said he would double in size, in all likelihood.

“The baby has a lot of growing to do,” he said. “He’s a year away from being 11 or 12 feet (tall). He should be between 18 and 21 feet at full growth.”

Though the giraffe’s growth will depend on his nursing and biology, he does have one characteristic that the public could influence — his name. The zoo is looking for the public’s input in naming the newborn giraffe and has created a contest that is free to enter on its Facebook page. Anyone interested in filing a submission can do so by visiting the page, facebook.com/brightszoo, and post your suggestion.

Follow Max Hrenda on Twitter @MaxLHrenda. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/jcpresshrenda.

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