Louisville Zoo's Baby Giraffe Surviving Despite Difficulties

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A new baby Masai giraffe at the Louisville Zoo is improving after an uncertain beginning. On Tuesday, February 17, 11-year-old Malaika gave birth to her third offspring-a 150 pound, 6-foot-2-inch male giraffe who the staff named Bakari, which means hopeful. (Pronounced bah-KAH-ree)

Minutes after keeper staff noticed Malaika sticking her tail out and walking abnormally, two feet popped out of her. An hour later, a male calf was on the ground.

As keeper staff observed the baby, they noticed that he was trying to stand on his own, but couldn't. They thought maybe it was because he was slipping on the barn floor. Teamwork kicked in and more than a dozen staff members began hauling wheelbarrows and shovels full of sand into the giraffe barn to assist the calf. Unfortunately, that didn't help. Staff then manually lifted Bakari's body and helped him to his feet. But the baby's legs were so wobbly, he couldn't stay standing.

Staff became worried, because it is critical for calves to stand within 24 hours and nurse from their mother so they can receive essential immunity from mother's first milk (called colostrum). Since the calf couldn't stand to nurse, the Zoo's veterinary team conducted a plasma transfer where horse immunoglobulins (or antibodies) were transfused into the giraffe through an intravenous line. Two plasma transfers were necessary to establish a protective immune system. The giraffe was also given life-saving fluids through the intravenous line to keep the calf hydrated while staff worked on getting him accustomed to bottle-feeding.

"Without the plasma transfer, he would be more likely to have problems down the road with infections," Louisville Zoo veterinarian Dr. Zoli Gyimesi said. "And even with the transfer, he is not out of the woods yet."

While most giraffe calves are up and running in a day, Bakari is still having trouble standing on his own for long periods. The veterinary team continues to conduct tests to try to determine the cause and establish a prognosis.

So, baby Bakari is being hand-raised. He is the 19th calf born at the Zoo.

"While we prefer not to hand-raise animals and let their mothers raise them, sometimes it is inevitable," Louisville Zoo Assistant Mammal Curator Candy McMahan said. "We always hope for the best, but in the end, we do what needs to be done to provide the most excellent care possible for the animal."

There are now four Masai giraffes as the Louisville Zoo- baby Bakari; mother Malaika, an 11 -year-old female; Mariah, a 21-year-old female; and Walker, a 14-year-old male.

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