Animal babies and human babies often have similar growing pains. For the Safari Park’s giraffe and rhino calves, the challenge is the transition from milk to solid food. Leroy, a Uganda giraffe, was born in a maternity corral on January 8, 2014. At two weeks old, Safari Park veterinarians determined that Leroy suffered from a severe bacterial infection that they treated with antibiotics and IV fluids, making nursing impossible. His human keepers became his surrogate parents and bottle-fed him three to five times a day.
After 39 days of hospitalization, Leroy was released into the Safari Park’s East Africa habitat with the rest of the Uganda giraffe herd. Leroy’s recovery was great news for both the keepers and for the endangered Uganda giraffe subspecies as a whole. Only about 700 Uganda giraffes still roam the wild.
But Leroy needed to learn how to be a giraffe. The gangly seven-foot calf touched visitors’ hearts as he cantered toward the keeper trucks at feeding time. A keeper stood on the bed of the pickup truck hidden under a giraffe-patterned blanket and fed the hungry baby from a bottle the size of a dachshund.
By the time Leroy turned seven months, he was sampling giraffe pellets from the feeders. Giraffes are typically weaned by their mothers at around six months old, so Leroy was on target, even though he was raised by humans. Caravan Safari guides ripped acacia leaves in half to create “baby food” and held the leaves firmly for the calf so he would feel like he was plucking leaves from an acacia tree with his prehensile tongue.
Leroy is a quick study. He has figured out that the Caravan Safari trucks are like the ice cream truck! Guests now feed him on Caravan Safari tours. Normally, guests look up at a 16-foot-tall giraffe’s face as they hand feed, but Leroy munches at eye level. When I ask guests for their favorite parts of the tour, they normally say, “Feeding Leroy!”
Elise Newman is a Caravan Safari guide at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Upcycling: Recycling at Its Finest.