CINCINNATI, OH (March 2, 2011) – Tessa, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s four-year-old Maasai giraffe is pregnant, due within the next two months. This news is especially exciting considering the last time the Zoo celebrated a giraffe birth was 1985. The Cincinnati Zoo’s history with giraffe births actually dates back to 1889 when it became the first zoo in the Western Hemisphere to have a giraffe born in zoos. (NOTE FOR MEDIA: Media are invited to attend a photo opportunity at 11 a.m. on March 2 with Tessa. Thane Maynard, Executive Director of the Cincinnati Zoo will also be available for interviews at that time.)
“It has been 26 years since the last calf was born here and the entire staff is excited, but cautiously optimistic,” said David Oehler, Director of Animal Collections, at the Cincinnati Zoo. “First time mothers, particularly in hoof stock, often have difficulties with the birthing process and they learn how to care for the second calf through that experience. In the event that Tessa isn’t sure what to do, our staff has prepared to step in and care for the calf.”
When a baby giraffe is born, it drops to the ground head first, about a 6-foot drop! The fall and the landing do no 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 “baby proof” Tessa’s indoor stall, keepers have added 6-8 inches of sand 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.
The official “Giraffe Watch” began on January 21 as a dedicated team of Zoo Volunteer Observers (ZVO’s) began the overnight watch program, using computer monitors set up in the Volunteer offices. Starting at 4 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day, teams of two volunteer observers take three to four hour shifts watching Tessa to look 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 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 stand and give birth on her own.
“As with any new arrival, the Zoo is buzzing with excitement,” said Thane Maynard, Executive Director of the Cincinnati Zoo. “It has been a long time since we’ve had a baby giraffe here in Cincinnati and we are ready.”
Tessa, who currently weighs approximately 1,800 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 the 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.