At nine days old, Brookfield Zoo’s newest addition stands taller than many grown men at six feet, two inches. He has big, glassy eyes, a circle-shaped spot among the lopsided, boxy blotches on his neck and little horned tufts on his head that finally fluffed after being flat at birth.
Last Monday, after a 14-month pregnancy and a few hours of labor, a five-year-old zoo giraffe named Arnieta gave birth to a baby boy. The newborn weighed 153 pounds but could eventually grow to be 18 feet tall.
Since his arrival, the calf, his mother and the rest of the zoo’s giraffe herd have been off-limits to visitors so the two could bond. But starting Wednesday, the public was able to see the baby and the rest of his family at the zoo’s indoor Habitat Africa! exhibit.
On Wednesday, members of the media visited the baby, his mother and grandmother, Franny, at their zoo habitat. Following the lead of his less-than-camera-shy mom, it wasn’t long before the baby hoofed his way to the front of its enclosure and began ignoring the limits of personal space by sniffing reporters, licking TV camera lenses and knawing on ropes stretching across the front of its pen like wire fencing.
He doesn’t have a name yet — for now, he’s just baby boy, aside from any nicknames his caregivers have given him — but already, there are big plans for the little guy.
His parents were paired for breeding based on a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which has a population management group for giraffes. The goal is ensuring there’s a population of giraffes in North America, a species who’s numbers are declining around the globe due to human encroachment, climate change and illegal poaching, said the zoo’s associate animal curator Joan Daniels.
She said there are roughly 400 giraffes in North America that are managed by the zoo association’s population plan. While she said that figure is good, the number of giraffes worldwide is disturbing. The wild giraffe population in Northeast Kenya, she said, is estimated at 5,000 or less. Meanwhile, giraffe numbers decreased by 40 percent in the last 10 years, and there are less than 80,000 left in Africa.
For that reason, Daniels said the baby — who was born in a stall in the back of the zoo’s Africa exhibit and was standing about an hour later — will stay with his mother for a year or two, then be moved to another zoo to breed with a female who’s been deemed a good genetic match.
For now, said Christina Gorsuch, lead keeper of the Africa exhibit, the baby is slowly being introduced to other members of the herd. First, he met his grandmother, who’s had three calves and began grooming and responding to him right away. Earlier this week, he was introduced to the oldest female in the exhibit — a 22-year-old named Mithra with a crooked horn. In the spring, he’ll meet his father, a four-year-old giraffe named Hasani, but the two are being kept separate for now so he doesn’t get pushy with the baby.
Even though this is Arnieta’s first calf, Gorsuch said the giraffe is doing a good job of nursing the baby and has been very careful around him.
“She’s a good mom,” Gorsuch said. “She came from a good mom.”
For now, the baby is a mini version of mom with the same brown-and-white markings, the same stand-up mane down his neck and the same slow gait. But unlike his hulking mother, he’s still too little to create a breeze with a swish of his wispy, black-tipped tail or a sniff of a reporter’s camera.
And as the exhibit opened to visitors Wednesday, the baby was immediately popular. Kids clung to a wooden fence separating them from the giraffes and cooed over the little animal. After a morning of inspecting photographers, the baby lowered himself to the mulch-covered ground, seemingly tired after the day’s activity.
After all, he may stand at over six feet tall, but he’s still a newborn.