Are any of you watching and awaiting the birth of April the Giraffe’s fifth calf? She’s due at any time. I’ve been glued to the Animal Adventure Park live cam AGAIN and swore I’d never let myself get addicted to it like I did for the birth of her calf, Tajiri, back in 2017, but alas, I think I’m just as bad this time around. I’m so sleep deprived. I’ve been so convinced she was going to have her calf “at any moment” for about four days now. A friend keeps telling me, well you can watch it on video if you miss it, but I want to see it live.
Who is April the giraffe you might be asking?
April is a 17-year-old reticulated giraffe at Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, New York who became an internet sensation back in 2017 when the park allowed the world to watch the late stages of her pregnancy and birth via a live giraffe cam. Oliver is the bull giraffe you see in the other stall behind April, who fathered Tajiri and this current calf (this is April’s fifth calf– she had three calves previously before coming to Animal Adventure Park). I did watch Tajiri’s birth live two years ago and it was such an amazing experience. There were 1.2 million people watching the day April gave birth to Tajiri live on YouTube! I was emotional and got all teary-eyed when that giraffe was birthed just like I had given birth to it myself. I had prayed many prayers for April’s safety and for her to deliver a healthy calf.
I didn’t know a whole lot about giraffes prior to watching April and family back in 2017. While in veterinary school, I did an exotic animal rotation which meant we followed the exotic animal medicine veterinarian around the Knoxville zoo for two weeks. The Knoxville zoo (now call Zoo Knoxville) did have giraffes, but we didn’t ever interact with them on any of our rounds. They were happy and healthy. We observed them some but that was about it. I remember a giraffe calf being born at the Knoxville Zoo while I was a veterinary student which was sorta exciting and made the news. They named the new baby ET and he was sure a cute little bugger. I also remember a giraffe dying at the zoo when I was in veterinary school and I remember it being brought to the veterinary hospital for an autopsy and how it was stretched from one end of the giant necropsy room to the other. That was a real eye opener for me and it made me appreciate just how huge these great beasts really are.
You can learn a lot about people and animals by watching a giraffe cam (they also have a live chat going that provides a lot of entertainment (and sometimes a lot of frustration). Here’s a few interesting giraffe facts and a few of my own observations:
- There’s something peaceful about being in a barn (whether in real life or on a web cam). In real life, I always love the smell of fresh hay, sweet feed, the soft lighting, and the quiet peaceful lurking of animals.
- Giraffes are very curious creatures.
- Giraffes only have 7 vertebrae in their neck which is the same number we have. Theirs are just a whole lot bigger!
- Each giraffe’s spots (or coat pattern) is unique to them as our fingerprints are to us.
- Giraffe’s tongues are about 18-20 inches long and are bluish-purple in color. The purple color is to protect their tongues from sunburn while they’re browsing for food.
- A giraffe’s gestation can be anywhere from 15-17 months, hence predicting a “due date” as we do in humans can be next to impossible.
- April the giraffe viewing has brought peace and contentment to so many suffering people. I’ve read countless stories about people suffering from cancer and other chronic illnesses, going through horrendous surgery and chemo treatments, or people who are going through divorces or experiencing grief from the loss of a loved one, who say April took their mind off of all that and brought them much-needed joy. Thank you for that April.
- I’ve heard people say watching April is the only happiness they have in life. That makes me really sad, but I’ve seen that comment countless times.
- For me, watching April is a welcome break from all the mean, hate-filled unkindness being spewed on the Internet and Social Media, and a welcome break from the political divisiveness our country is experiencing.
- You will see all kinds of people on the chat site. There’s the giraffe experts, the complainers, the worriers, and of course the usual trolls. I’ve learned when a commenter on the chat says, “Is it me or do I see a bubble?” (referring to the amniotic sac), that there is never a bubble. The same if someone says, “Is it me, or do I see hooves hanging out of April’s hoohaw?” that there are never hooves hanging out. So yes, it’s just you!! People get really excited and worked up on this chat site. Fights break out at times and that keeps the moderators on their toes, but I’ve mostly found the chat to be a fun and loving place to be. There’s a common denominator found there– love for our April girl.
- Giraffes are not monogamous.
- Male giraffes only care about three things: eating, sleeping, and breeding. But wait, isn’t that most males? Sorry guys, I couldn’t resist.
- Female giraffes have an estrus cycle every two weeks.
- Males determine if a female is in heat by tasting her urine. He’s looking for special hormones called pheromones put out by the female.
- Males fight for dominance with other males by “necking.” To better understand this behaviour, watch a YouTube video of male necking behavior in giraffes. It can be just gentle rubbing of the necks together or it can appear to be pretty violent but thankfully, it doesn’t usually end in injuries, just bruised egos! It made my head and neck hurt just to watch it. And oh, that sound!
- Giraffes are super good at hiding their labor. In the wild, this is very important so as not to attract predators. Giraffes are particularly vulnerable to predation during the birthing period. This is instinctive behavior so yes, captive giraffes like April will hide their labor too, even though she doesn’t have predators to worry about.
- Animal Adventure Park calls active labor in a giraffe when they see actual hooves coming out.
- Signs of impending labor in a giraffe are restlessness, pacing, swelling of the vulvar area, licking the vulvar area, licking or biting at the flank area, star-gazing behavior, zoning out, raising or lifting of the tail, a vaginal discharge, and shedding of the wax caps of the teats.
- Giraffes give birth standing up.
- The calf drops about 6 feet to the ground during birth. This drop usually breaks the amniotic sac, severs the umbilical cord, and gets the baby breathing on its own.
- Care of the calf is done entirely by the female. The male’s part is done after breeding.
- They are usually up and walking within about 20 minutes of birth (this is important in the wild as newborns are very susceptible to predators).
- Newborn calves usually nurse within the first hour of life and are usually able to run within a few hours.
- Weaning age is about 6-17 months and they are usually independent at two years of age.
- Only about 25% of newborn calves in the wild survive (due to predators). This astounded me when I first read it!
- Calves are usually around 6 ft. tall at birth and weigh between 150- 220 lbs.
- Female giraffes have a longer lifespan than male giraffes.
- In captivity, giraffes can live up to 40 years (that is the longest recorded age). The life in the wild is shorter due to poaching, predation, etc. In the wild, they live about 15-20 years.
- The major predators of giraffes are lions (#1), hyenas, leopards, crocodiles, and wild dogs. And then we always have illegal hunting (poaching) by humans.
- Giraffes have huge hooves which are about the size of dinner plates…. about 12 inches wide!
- Their strong legs and large hooves are their main defense against predators. They can easily kill a lion with one kick to the skull.
- Why doesn’t the staff of AAP go into Oliver’s stall and interact with him like they do April? Because Oliver is a bull and as Jordan, the park owner, says, “A bull is a bull is a bull!” Bulls have a tendency to be unpredictable and aggressive.
- Giraffes can sleep standing up but do lie down for short periods. They need very little sleep and get by with only 30 minutes to 4 hours of sleep a day. They usually keep their neck up while lying down but do occasionally curl their head and neck over their belly for a short time. We see April do this often when she is resting.
- April has a funny, cute little quirk where she tosses hay up in the air over her body. AAP said she has always done this. The chat people call it April showers, or hay showers. It’s quite amusing to watch.
- Most giraffes have to spread their front legs to bend over to get a drink of water or to eat off the ground. April bends over while lifting her left rear leg and dangling it. Another little quirk of April’s.
According to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, giraffe numbers have plummeted across Africa by ~40% to <100,000 individuals in the past three decades. This decrease in numbers is due to a number of factors including habitat loss and degradation, human population growth, and poaching. This is why education and awareness are so very important.
Thank you Animal Adventure Park for all you do for Giraffe Conservation! And thank you for sharing this beautiful giraffe family with the entire world.
April is resting comfortably now so I think I’ll go get some sleep myself and say a prayer for a safe delivery for my favorite giraffe. Sweet dreams, April.