Frequently Asked Questions

posted: 04/03/15

During the streaming of Giraffe Birth LIVE, what you see may spark your curiosity and raise questions. To help out, we've compiled answers to several frequently asked questions.

What is Giraffe Birth Live?

To bring a taste of the wild into viewers' homes, celebrate the incredible beginnings of a newborn animal's life, and educate about the state of the earth's graceful giants, Animal Planet partnered with the Dallas Zoo to broadcast the birth of a baby giraffe live on television and online. Ten cameras were installed in the zoo's maternity barn to monitor Katie the Giraffe in the final days of her pregnancy.

When the moment came, we provided a live stream of the full delivery on the Animal Planet channel as well as online at APL.TV and AnimalPlanet.com where the live stream continues 24/7. We also have video highlights of the birth.

How many giraffes exist in the wild? How rare is this subspecies of giraffe in terms of population?

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are approximately 80,000 giraffes currently on the African continent, a 40% loss from 1999 when the populations were at 140,000. Of the nine subspecies, the reticulated giraffe is estimated to have a population size of 4,700 which is down from the estimated 31,000 in 1998, as reported by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

How significant are these births at zoos?

Because the giraffe's existence is threatened in their native habitat, every birth in a zoo is a celebrated occasion, giving zoologists, conservationists, and researchers the opportunity to study giraffes and their offspring as well as educate and captivate zoo visitors year-round. In conjunction with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan (SSP), several accredited zoos have breeding programs dedicated to building healthy giraffe populations with a high emphasis on genetic diversity. The research is then used in meaningful initiatives meant to foster growth in wild giraffe populations.

What is a baby giraffe called?

Similar to cattle, a baby giraffe is called a calf. In addition, a female giraffe is a cow while a male is a bull.

What is the size of a newborn giraffe?

A calf is born weighing 100 to 150 pounds and measuring in at 6 feet tall.

What is the gestation period for a giraffe?

The average gestation period for a giraffe is 15 months or 453-464 days.

What is the lifespan of a giraffe?

In the wild, the average lifespan of a giraffe is 10-15 years. In human care, they've been known to live longer, 20-27 years on average.

What is the labor process?

Giraffes give birth while standing up so a calf enters the world from quite a height. They fall 6 feet to the ground with hooves and head first. The fall may seem like an abrupt entrance into the world, but it effectively breaks the amniotic sac, severs the umbilical cord, and most importantly encourages the calf to take its first breaths. After the calf drops to the ground, the mother will begin to clean it off, and after a few minutes, the calf will attempt its first steps.

How did the zoo prepare for the giraffe birth?

The zookeepers and veterinarians work countless numbers of hours, days, weeks, and years with giraffes to prepare and train them for important moments like these. That includes getting them used to technology and devices that may make the delivery process safe and smooth for baby and mother in healthy situations as well as any perceived emergencies.

One particular object they sometimes use is called a giraffe restraint device (GRD). The voluntary device is used to keep giraffes in place for ultrasounds, routine veterinary checkups, and delivery if any intervention is deemed necessary during the labor process. Zookeepers have trained Katie to walk into the GRD daily to make certain she is comfortable with it leading up to her due date.

The maternity stall in which Katie gave birth was specially prepared for the calf's arrival. Staff brought in additional dirt so that the calf had 6 inches of soft cushioning when she fell those 6 feet during the birth. Keepers were also on site with first aid and milk if the calf needed any assistance with nursing.

How soon can a calf walk after being born?

Within 30 minutes to an hour of being born, a calf will begin to stand and walk. These first steps are necessary for the calf to be able to nurse from their mother. Within the first day, the calf will also be able to run.

Where do giraffes give birth in the wild?

Giraffes choose to have their babies in places known as calving grounds. Something that's unique about these grounds is that mothers will often return to these lands time after time to give birth. Often, it is the same place they were born because a herd will continue the tradition of using the area for several generations.

What do baby giraffes eat?

A newborn giraffe will begin to nurse from its mother as soon as it is able to stand. By 4 months of age, they will begin to eat solid food (i.e. leaves).

How do mother giraffes care for their young?

In the immediate moments after birth, the mother will start to bond with her calf and lick it clean of the remaining amniotic fluids. She will also be seen encouraging the calf to stand and take its very first steps which will allow the young giraffe to nurse for the first time.

How long do they nurse from their mothers?

Giraffes nurse from their mothers for 9 to 12 months. Male giraffes will stay with their mothers for 15 months before leaving to form a group with other males. Females leave their mothers around 18 months, but will continue to live with their herd.

More Facts about Giraffes

  • Giraffes are the world's tallest mammals. While height varies between the subspecies, giraffes can be up to 20 feet tall. Reticulated giraffes average 14 to 19 feet tall.
  • There are 9 subspecies of giraffe. The most common giraffes in zoos are Rothschild's and reticulated giraffes like Katie. In the wild, Masai Giraffes have the largest population at approx. 40,000.
  • They are herbivores and their diet consists of leaves especially from acacia trees. Giraffes only need to drink water once every few days. They obtain most of their water from the leaves they eat.
  • Giraffes eat approximately 75 pounds of food per day. To graze on that many leaves, giraffes usually spend 16 to 20 hours per day standing and walking.
  • Amazingly, giraffes don't need much sleep despite their long days of exercising and eating. They often only get 30 minutes to 2 hours of sleep every 24 hours from the short naps they take throughout the day. Most of the time those naps are taken while standing up unless there is another giraffe around to stand guard over others in the herd and watch for predators.
  • Being tall and heavy, adult giraffes have an advantage against some of their natural predators. They are often able to defend themselves against predators such as lions by kicking out with their strong hooved feet.
  • Giraffes have a great sense of sight and smell and are able to run at speeds up to 35 miles per hour.
  • However, a baby giraffe in the wild is vulnerable because it has a shorter gait and is unable to keep up with the herd if a predator is detected. In the days and weeks following a birth, a mother giraffe will sometimes leave her baby hidden in tall grass for a few hours while she eats and roams. Once old enough, the calf will join other calves from the herd in nursery groups supervised by at least one mother who will act as babysitter. This allows the calves to socialize while the other adults in the herd graze.
  • Reticulated giraffes are native to Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya--where their population is the largest.
  • Male reticulated giraffes are larger than their female counterparts. Males are 2,145 to 3,075 lbs. and females are 1,550 to 2,095 lbs.
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