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Giraffe Calf

Born: Sept. 16, 2015
MillerCoors Giraffe Experience

Ziggy nuzzles her calf, Tafari.Zookeepers were excited to learn that Ziggy, the Milwaukee County Zoo’s 5-year-old female giraffe, was pregnant with her first calf. They studied up on giraffe pregnancy, birth and development as they waited for the baby to arrive. And waited. And waited. An expected due date in mid- to late July came and went, as did August and half of September before the calf finally made his entrance Sept. 16. Giraffes are pregnant for 14 to 15 months, and an ultrasound wasn’t feasible, so estimating a due date proved difficult, says zookeeper Joan Pappas. “We’ll probably never know if her pregnancy went a little long or if we just miscalculated when she got pregnant,” she says.

But it was worth the wait for Tafari, the first giraffe calf born at the Zoo since 2003. The calf has been drawing large crowds. More than 5,000 people participated in online voting to choose the name, which comes from Ethiopia and means “he who inspires awe.” “The media really seemed to take an interest in and follow Tafari’s story,” says Jennifer Diliberti-Shea, Zoo public relations coordinator. “We received media attention from as far away as Colorado and Florida for his birth announcement. It might have been a combination of how adorable he is as well as how unbelievable his birth statistics were!” The calf was 5 feet 9 inches tall at birth and had already reached 6½ feet by the time he was 7 weeks old. But he’s still dwarfed by the Zoo’s other giraffes – his father, Bahatika, is the tallest giraffe in the herd at 13½ feet. Tafari can often be seen scampering about the giraffe building, and when the weather was warmer, he enjoyed exploring the outdoor yard. “He’s curious and confident,” Pappas says. He will continue to nurse until he’s 6-9 months old, but he’s already nibbling on solid foods such as alfalfa, produce and “giraffe chow” pellets.

It’s been neat to watch the adult giraffes react to the new calf, Pappas says. Ziggy has shown herself to be a good mother, although she gets nervous when crowds of people gather to see the baby. Bahatika at first seemed afraid of Tafari and would run away when he approached. “He’s getting less nervous now,” Pappas says. “But you have to remember, he’s 10 years old and he’s never seen a calf before.” Fathers typically don’t have much involvement with calves because their job is to protect the whole herd, she says. Rahna, the Zoo’s 23-year-old female, has made it clear that she’s not interested in the baby.

Keepers have been encouraged to see the positive interaction between Tafari and Marlee, the Zoo’s 3-year-old female. Marlee and Ziggy were both brought to the Milwaukee County Zoo in 2013 through an endowment established by the Bernie Ziegler family with the hope that they would breed with Bahatika. “Marlee has been extremely interested and good with Tafari,” Pappas says. They’ve gotten so close that the keepers often refer to her as Tafari’s “Auntie Marlee,” even though the two aren’t related. “This is good practice for her – hopefully she will have the next calf.”