COAL VALLEY, Ill. — By the time Niabi Zoo opens for an abbreviated season, the five-member giraffe herd should be ready for its first public appearance.
The newest member of the herd, born Saturday at 9 p.m., is sticking close to her mother now but should be ready to join the others in their outdoor exhibit by opening day, hopefully sometime in May. Meanwhile, the beehive of construction at the zoo is buying the baby more private bonding time with her mother.
Zoo Director Tom Stalf said his wife and head keeper, Colleen Stalf, checked in on the very pregnant Twiga Saturday night by video camera and realized she had delivered.
“Colleen checked in as we were about to go to bed and said, ‘Oh, my gosh! There’s a baby!’” he said. “We called the vets right away, and Colleen went over until about 3 a.m.”
Niabi’s giraffe herd has undergone big changes in the past six months.
In October, 3-year-old Jabu, a male who spent most of his life at Niabi, died unexpectedly. A necropsy, or animal autopsy, showed the cause of death was an inflamed heart. Tests did not explain why Jabu’s heart was inflamed.
About three months later, the first giraffe was born at Niabi when Mimi gave birth to Kito, a male. He is well on his way to eating on his own and is expected to stop nursing entirely in the next couple of weeks, Tom Stalf said.
“Our new little girl is actually bigger than he was,” he said today. “She’s much stronger than the little male we have, and she probably weighs 140 pounds.”
Standing next to her mother, however, the yet-unnamed newborn appeared small and cautiously curious.
The zoo is having an online name-the-giraffe contest to choose her new moniker. Zoo staff will be accepting ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org until May 20. The person who submits the winning name will get a family membership to the zoo.
Stalf and his team of keepers are especially pleased with the timing of the giraffe birth, he said, because it adds to the excitement of an upcoming opening among a number of major improvement projects and construction, including a much larger parking lot, new walkways and a lake.
“This was our plan all along,” he said of the two recent giraffe births. “We wanted to pair the male with two good females for breeding. The babies will be with us for up to a year and then we’ll either sell or loan them to other zoos.”
Females fetch $50,000, he said, while male giraffes cost between $7,000 and $10,000.
At a recent conference for zookeepers on caring for giraffes, Stalf said, his wife learned that the latest recommendation is to allow baby and mother plenty of private time to bond, though the father is no threat.
From his vantage point high above his new daughter in the indoor enclosure, Kenya appeared curious when visitors entered to photograph the newborn, which stayed close to her mother’s long legs.
“They’re doing very well, all of them,” Stalf said. “We hope they’ll be ready to all be together when we open, and I think they will. They’re bonded, and they’re a herd. We’re really lucky to have them.”