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Giraffes Kiri (And Very Likely Kay) In The Family

Giraffes Kiri (And Very Likely Kay) In The Family Way

An ultra-sound has just confirmed Auckland Zoo’s eldest female giraffe Kiri, is pregnant.

But the 17-year-old may not be alone. It is thought Kay, who is two years her junior, and has put on 90kg in the past six months, might also have a young calf on the way.

Dad, on both counts, is four-year-old Zabulu, the Zoo’s only male giraffe. With the girls progressing in years and Zabulu only recently matured, natural conception was considered a long shot.

Giraffes have a 15-month gestation period. It is estimated Kiri will give birth in early 2003. Kay, who’s likely pregnancy will be confirmed through a faecal test, could be due earlier. The expected birth weight for these new-born is 60-100kg, and their height about 2 metres. They need to be this tall to be able to reach up and suckle from their mothers. (Kiri and Kay both stand over 4 metres)

Zoo staff are delighted, but also a little surprised.

Senior zookeeper Sam Stephens has for the past four years worked with keeper Robert McIntyre on a ‘conditioning’ programme developed as a way of preparing the female giraffes for possible artificial insemination (AI).

“We’ve been investigating AI for some years now. AI is a very good way to assist the genetic diversity of giraffes in captivity. Obviously from a practical point of view collecting and transporting sperm is also far easier and safer than transporting giraffes, which are notoriously difficult animals to move about,” says Sam Stephens.

“Because of their size and temperament, only young giraffes can be transported.”

A key part of the daily conditioning programme has involved placing the females in the giraffe crush. This has enabled the animals to get used to a confined space, and in Kiri’s case, to work up to also having a full internal physical examination. Mock camera and ultra-sound equipment (a silver-painted cardboard box) have also been placed in the crush, and different people have been regularly introduced to prepare the giraffes for how it would be for an actual AI procedure.

“Because giraffes are so easily stressed, the key is to have everything as close to the real situation as possible.

“Kay is a difficult customer, and is not yet able to be examined internally. But we have achieved this with Kiri. And it’s because we have got her to this relaxed stage that we were able to do the ultra-sound yesterday, and confirm her pregnancy,” says Sam.

One more ultra-sound on Kiri will be carried out in a month’s time to monitor her progress. Kiri and Kay, who have both had successful pregnancies in the past, will also continue to be weighed fortnightly.

A high-energy diet has also been important in preparing the giraffes for pregnancy.
They are given a combination of plenty of quality browse (tree branches), a high-energy concentrate pellet feed and lucerne hay. “Puka browse is a particular favourite,” says Sam.

The young will be born with the female standing, her back legs bent to lessen the drop to the ground. In the process the umbilical cord snaps during the fall. Within an hour of birth the youngster stands and searches for its first feed.


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