CINCINNATI, OH (September 27, 2012) - Tessa, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s five-year-old Maasai giraffe is pregnant again, due in the next month. Tessa, and father “Kimba,” are both doing well and currently can be seen at the Zoo’s Giraffe Ridge exhibit. The Zoo (@CincinnatiZoo) will be live-tweeting leading up to and during the birth. Make sure you follow hashtag #giraffebirth for the latest updates.
The Cincinnati Zoo’s history with giraffe births dates back to 1889 when it became the first zoo in the Western Hemisphere to have a giraffe born in captivity. This will be Tessa’s second calf, her first calf, Zuri, was born in April 2011. At seven-weeks-old, Zuri fractured her leg in her indoor stall and after months of working with local equine specialists, the Zoo was forced to make the devastating and most humane decision for the calf, to euthanize her on July 1, 2011.
“As emotionally painful as the loss of Zuri was to all of us here at the Cincinnati Zoo, Tessa’s pregnancy gives us hope again,” said Thane Maynard, Executive Director of the Cincinnati Zoo. “Right now the focus is on Tessa and ensuring she is calm and comfortable as her due date approaches.”
The Zoo has formed a dedicated team of Volunteer Observers (ZVO’s) to keep an eye on Tessa around the clock. Volunteers take 3-4 hour shifts watching Tessa, looking for behavioral changes that might indicate labor. Signs such as Tessa starting to pace and perhaps even showing the first signs of a birth - the baby’s small hooves emerging for the first time - are what the ZVO’s are on the lookout for. Protocols have been developed to cover almost any situation, although the Zoo hopes that after four hours of labor Tessa will give birth on her own.
“Tessa really started to ‘show’ three months ago, which gave us confidence that she was indeed pregnant again,” said David Oehler, Director of Animal Collections, at the Cincinnati Zoo. “Over the last month, we’ve been preparing the indoor stall and the outdoor yard for the arrival of this calf and naturally, monitoring Tessa closely to ensure a smooth pregnancy. As with any birth, the entire staff is excited, but cautiously optimistic.”
After nearly 15 months of gestation, at birth a baby giraffe drops to the ground head first, about a 6-foot drop! The fall and the landing do not hurt the calf, but they do cause it to take a big breath. The calf is expected to both nurse and stand within an hour of delivery. To prepare for the birth, in Tessa’s indoor stall, keepers have added 6-8 inches of sawdust and hay on top of large rubber mats to cushion the calf’s fall and to provide excellent footing for the calf once it begins to stand. Giraffe calves typically weigh around 125 pounds at birth and are approximately six feet tall.
Tessa, who currently weighs 1,660 pounds, came to the Cincinnati Zoo in 2008 from the Houston Zoo for the opening of Giraffe Ridge. The father, “Kimbaumbau” (Kimba) also came to Cincinnati in 2008, from the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island. Both Tessa and Kimba can be found at Giraffe Ridge, which is a 27,000 square-foot exhibit complete with an elevated viewing platform, which provides an amazing interactive experience, bringing guests eye-to-eye with giraffes.
Although their numbers have decreased in the past century, giraffes are not currently endangered, but listed as “lower risk” with fairly stable populations. Unlike many species, there is no true breeding season for the Maasai Giraffe and females can become pregnant beginning at just four years of age. In the wild up to 75% of the calves die in their first few months of life, mainly due to predation.