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Toledo Zoo welcomes baby giraffe

Healthy, 130-pound female calf named Kipenzi

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    Kipenzi, which means beloved or precious one in Swahili, is the newest addition to the Toledo Zoo. The giraffe was born at the zoo late Monday evening, weighing 130 pounds and standing about 5 feet, 7 inches tall.

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    Kipenzi and her mother Elli, right, are both thought to be doing well. The two are Masai giraffes at the Toledo Zoo.

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The Toledo Zoo’s newest, knobbly kneed little addition actually isn’t so little.

A female Masai giraffe born at the zoo Monday evening weighs 130 pounds and stands 5 feet, 7 inches tall. 

Her name is Kipenzi, which means beloved or precious one in Swahili. 

Terry Webb, director of animal programs, said the birth was normal. Veterinary staff examined the calf Tuesday and declared her healthy.

BLADE VIDEO: Female giraffe born at Toledo Zoo

“The calf looked strong and alert and bright the next morning,” he said.

The calf and her mother, 14-year-old Elli, will not be on public display until cleared by the zoo’s veterinary staff, possibly around Memorial Day.

Kipenzi is Elli’s fifth offspring, including a stillborn in 2008, and the first for the zoo’s 5½-year-old male, Trevor.

While thousands of people have been waiting many weeks for a pregnant giraffe named April at Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, N.Y., to give birth via a live camera feed, the Toledo Zoo does not livestream such events.

“A lot of different things can go wrong in birth,” Shayla Bell Moriarty, director of communications, said. “It’s no different than human childbirth.”

She added that the focus on the birth itself can take away from the bigger picture. In 2016, all nine subspecies of giraffe — including the Masai native to Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania — were listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The wild population has declined by 36 to 40 percent over the last 30 years.

“We all need to keep perspective,” she said. “What we’re doing is adding offspring to a species that is threatened.”

Mr. Webb noted that the normal giraffe gestation period is 465 to 470 days, and giraffes will mate multiple times over the course of a month or longer. So it is difficult to determine when conception actually takes place.

He also said the zoo does not need the additional work of maintaining a live feed, particularly if an animal experiences difficulty during birth.

“You’re going to have to cut your live feed off, everyone is going to be concerned, and you’ll have to intervene,” he said. “That’s another layer of responsibility and challenge that we don’t need.”

Fortunately, Kipenzi’s birth was smooth. Giraffes give birth standing up, letting the baby fall about 6 feet to the ground.

“It sounds horrible, but it bursts the birth sac and gives that first impact to the kid to take a breath and get oriented,” Mr. Webb said. “They have to be on their feet within an hour to follow the female and get away from that birth site, away from the odor of the placenta and fluids that attract predators.”

Kipenzi was on her feet within an hour, and nursing shortly thereafter.

The calf will stay in Toledo until she is 18 months to 2 years old. She will then move on to another facility for breeding at the recommendation of the Species Survival Plan for Masai giraffes in zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Mr. Webb said few females have been born among the captive Masai giraffe population in recent years, making Kipenzi very valuable for both her genetics and boosting the overall population.

Last April, the Toledo Zoo lost a young female named Asha that was to become a breeding female with Trevor. The skittish 2-year-old had been in a routine quarantine after being transferred from the Santa Barbara Zoo, when she inexplicably spooked and fell. The accident caused a compound spiral fracture in a rear leg that an equine orthopedic surgeon determined could not be fixed.

Contact Alexandra Mester: amester@theblade.com, 419-724-6066, or on Twitter @AlexMesterBlade.

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