TYLER — For years, the staff at Caldwell Zoo had planned to breed another endangered reticulated giraffe. On June 7, the zoo got its wish and welcomed a female baby giraffe into the world.
Fewer than 16,000 reticulated giraffes remain in the wild, which is about a 50 percent decline from three decades ago, according to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. The species, which is native to parts of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, was categorized as endangered in 2018.
Within 30 minutes of being born, the baby giraffe was standing. Another 45 minutes later, she was walking and exploring. However, her struggle was far from over.
“After about 24 hours of watching this baby giraffe that we had, we realized that something was wrong with this baby,” said Caldwell Zoo Curator of Mammals Scotty Stainback.
The baby giraffe wasn’t getting the nutrition it needed from its mother, Nyala, so the staff at Caldwell Zoo made the call to perform an emergency plasma transfusion with the help of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“She was lethargic; she was not wanting to get up and interact with her mother. She wouldn’t nurse and was having hiccup-like spasms that prevented her from getting any sleep, so she was very tired,” said Kara Moss, a keeper in the zoo’s mammal department.
The staff at the zoo successfully performed the transfusion, as well as provided the baby giraffe with other necessary IV fluids. Although the transfusion and additional fluids helped initially, the baby giraffe still wouldn’t eat, and her health again started to decline.
“That baby was doing well, just super good, and then it’s like we hit a brick wall,” Stainback said.
“It started to feel like we were losing her a little bit. And a lot of us started to prepare for the worst,” mammals keeper Evelyn Powell said.
After the second decline in the baby giraffe’s health, the zoo staff knew that they would have to try something else. Because the animal wouldn’t nurse from her mother, the staff made the difficult decision to nurse her through a tube.
“We never like to have to raise the animal ourselves,” Powell said.
The zoo staff finally found that regular cow’s milk was baby giraffe’s diet of choice.
“It is working. She’s getting the nutrients that she needs. She’s getting stronger every single day,” Powell said.
Now that the staff feeds her, the baby giraffe is not only healthy but has also made friends with her keepers and can be seen by zoo visitors.
Staff will be posting a contest on the zoo’s Facebook page to find a name for the animal, and the winner of the contest will be able to meet the giraffe.