Bottle-fed Giraffe

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Part of my job as lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park is to take care of the animals, even those that may not have a good mom. This is Majagi the giraffe’s story:

On April 28, 2010, Crystal the Uganda giraffe had her first calf. Crystal is only 3½ years old, quite young for a normal giraffe mom; most female giraffes don’t give birth until they are 4 or 5. Since she was a first-time mom, we kept a careful watch to observe her for maternal instinct and nursing the calf. Our keeper doing the watch, Jennifer Minichino, named the giraffe Majagi, which means “tall glass of water” in Swahili.

During our observations we noticed that Crystal would nuzzle, lick, and care for her baby, but would not let her nurse. We watched all day but never saw nursing, and Majagi seemed to be getting weak since she wasn’t getting any milk from her mom. We separated her from her mom and took her to the Wild Animal Park’s Harter Veterinary Medical Hospital overnight. Her mom didn’t seem to mind.

The veterinary staff and keepers worked hard to get her healthy enough to go back to her mom the next day. Majagi weighed in at 176 pounds (80 kilograms) and was 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall. We offered her bottles overnight and got her drinking giraffe formula from us.

We then teamed up with the Park’s Animal Care Center (ACC) staff to take care of Majagi. The ACC is in charge of preparing her bottles and doing the evening feedings, while we do the morning feedings. Several keepers volunteered to be her surrogate mom, even a couple of the guys! (Thanks, Steve and Matt!)

Jane uses a giraffe-patterned towel to lure Majigi

The next day we introduced her back to her mom; Crystal accepted her but still would not let her calf nurse. Since Crystal was a good mom in other ways, we let her stay with her calf and took over the feedings for Majagi. We initially fed Majagi five times a day, with her last feeding at 7 p.m. Majagi is now going on three months old, so she only eats three times a day. We feed her over 3 gallons (11 liters) of milk each day! Majagi now weighs over 300 pounds (136 kilograms) and is almost 8 feet (2.4 meters) tall!

We hope to introduce Majagi and her mom to the rest of the giraffe herd early next month and finish bottle feeding her in the field where she can interact with the other giraffe kids (three boys and three girls with three more moms due this summer!) and learn to be a part of the giraffe herd in the East Africa exhibit at the Wild Animal Park. Come visit the Park this summer to see the giraffe calves play together!

Jane Kennedy is a lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park. Watch video of Jane feeding Majagi.