World Giraffe Day is an annual event that celebrates the tallest animal on the longest day of the year: Summer Solstice on June 21st. Every year, World Giraffe Day brings awareness and support to giraffe conservation. For over a decade, the Sacramento Zoo has supported the Wild Nature Institute in their work in giraffe conservation utilizing research, education, and outreach.
This year, though, World Giraffe Day is even more special. We are very excited to announce that Shani, one of our Masai giraffes, is pregnant! The calf is due in late summer. This newest addition to the giraffe herd will be the 21st calf born at the Sacramento Zoo since 1964.
Giraffes have a long gestation of 453-464 days (about 15 months)! The extended gestation time allows the calf to develop enough to stand within minutes of birth and walk and run within an hour of birth. When they are born, the calf will likely be approximately six feet (1.8 meters) tall and weigh about 143 pounds (65 kilograms). Newborn calves grow very quickly and can almost double their height in their first year.
In the wild, some giraffes give birth at ‘calving grounds.’ Giraffe mothers often return to the area where they were born to give birth to their own calves. Here at the zoo, when Shani shows signs of being close to delivering, her care team will set her up in our giraffe barn with her own stall. The stall will be prepared with lots of extra bedding, which will help the calf with traction when it stands on its own shortly after birth. Both Shani and her baby will stay off exhibit for approximately two weeks to allow them to bond and to ensure that nursing is going well.
Giraffes give birth standing up so that the baby’s long neck isn’t injured when they fall approximately six feet at their birth. This process doesn’t hurt giraffe calves, but instead helps snap their umbilical cord and tear the amniotic sac. The landing stimulates the baby into taking its first breaths.
In the wild, male calves will usually leave their mother at about 15 months to join an all-male bachelor herd. Female calves will usually stay in the same herd as their mother. If they do leave, it is at approximately 18 months of age, and they stay in the same general area as their family herd. The giraffe herd at the Sacramento Zoo reflects a similar social structure as observed in the wild. In addition to our male Masai giraffe, Chifu, the females in the herd include Shani, her niece Amira, her daughter Glory, and her soon-to-be-calf. If the calf is a female, she will stay with her herd. If the calf is a male, he will move onto a different herd after two years, reflecting a normal family cycle.
We are excited to meet the newest addition to the Sac Zoo giraffe herd later this year. On your next visit to the zoo, swing by the giraffe deck to offer your congratulations to Shani and Chifu. I’m sure Chifu would be pleased to receive those congratulations in the form of browse during one of our regularly scheduled giraffe encounters. You can stay up to date on any updates through our blog and social media channels.
Learn more about the Sacramento Zoo’s involvement in giraffe conservation.
Want to see the giraffes up close and personal? Check out our Horns and Hooves Behind the Scenes Tour.