The 37th giraffe born at Safari West was a bit more exciting than the typical birth at the 400-acre African animal preserve near Santa Rosa.
Keepers knew Jamala, an expectant mother who turned 20 years old Wednesday, was ready to give birth to her seventh calf. But when two front hooves appeared early in the morning they cleared out other giraffes from her enclosure to give her privacy.
After a couple of hours, the keepers became worried the calf was twisted in the womb when the nose and face were not appearing. “At that point we called our vet and we decided she needed assistance,” said keeper Erika Mittleman.
While keeper Katie Toole distracted Jamala with some cottonwood leaves, Mittleman snuck up behind the 1,600-pound animal and slipped a piece of bailing twine over one of the exposed hooves. Toole slipped another over the other hoof so they could pull evenly.
Both keepers leaned back and pulled with all their strength but the calf didn’t budge, and Jamala seemed not to notice or mind the commotion. They called in another keeper, Jen Bates, to lend help.
Finally, with four people tugging, the calf’s head and then quickly the shoulders popped out and the 140-pound newborn dropped six feet to earth in a rude awakening that helped jump-start its life.
The calf, already standing 6 feet tall, made some wobbly, comedic attempts to stand before toppling, its long, skinny legs flailing.
“She’s out walking around with mom. She’s just great. The trouble comes tonight. It’s always tricky trying to get a baby into the stall [in the giraffe barn] for the first night,” said Mittleman.
In the wild, giraffes learn to walk quickly so they are not vulnerable to predators. In this case, the calf was up and suckling within 25 minutes. The rest of the herd leaned over the fence to inspect and meet the latest addition with snuggles and licks.
Safari West, a member of the American Zoological Association, trades and moves its animals to increase genetic diversity of their herd.