WACO, TX — A contest is underway to name the newborn Masai giraffe at Cameron Park Zoo
The final choice of names has been narrowed down to Prince, Duke, and Zeke.
The male giraffe was born on January 22 at a weight of 135 pounds and six feet tall. This is the first giraffe born in 20 years at Cameron Park Zoo and the first Masai birth.
Staff with Cameron Park Zoo say they've seen positive developments regarding the health of newborn and mother giraffe - Penelope.
Katrina Lee is the Animal Care Supervisor of Mammals at the Cameron Park Zoo, where's she's worked for seven years. Today, she's among the many ensuring the newly born cafe and his mother are healthy.
On Wednesday, the staff at Cameron Parks Zoo said Penelope was exhibiting difficulty allowing her calf to nurse. According to Lee, they've thankfully seen a behavior change, and both are doing well.
"The calf is doing well. We see the nursing attempts that we need to see, and the calf is receiving the amounts that are normal," she said. "She's a first-time mom, so at first she was a little intolerant. But she's started to be much calmer in allowing him to nurse."
Lee says they're also pleased with the weight the calf is putting on.
“We’ve seen a really good birth weight gain, so we weigh him every couple of days and see the weight gain that we need to be seeing," she added.
For now, both Penelope and the unnamed calf are being kept in an enclosed area of their habitat so zoo staff can continue monitoring them and best ensure their safety. Eventually, the mother and the new giraffe will be allowed to enter the exhibit yard, but Lee said there's no set timetable.
“We don’t want to make her to nervous," she explained. "We don’t have a set date. It just depends on how their doing.”
The mortality rate for giraffe calves is considered high. According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the mortality rate is 50% for those born in the wild and 25% for those born in captivity.
"The numbers always kind of vary. There's a lot of things that go into it," Lee said. "They're big animals, so to intervene is a little difficult. We've been watching Penelope and the calf for almost 24 hours for the past two weeks now."
The importance of ensuring the health of the newborn giraffe at Cameron Park Zoo extends from the calf itself to the greater species of Masai giraffe. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the global authority on the conservation status of wild animals and plants, currently lists Masai giraffes as endangered.
"If you look at ICUN, their red list that explains if animals are endangered or not says that in past 50 or so years, about 30% of the population has been lost," Lee explained. "There's a bunch of different reasons for that, but mainly human interaction, including hunting."
That's why the work being done at Cameron Park Zoo is so important, said Zoo General Curator Manda Butler.
"This is Dane," Butler explained as she walked towards the viewing deck of the giraffe exhibit. As Butler was speaking, Dane began walking towards her in what a visitor at the zoo described as an example of Dane recognizing her voice.
"He is the father of the new giraffe. He came here in 2014," Butler said.
Dane is among the two giraffes you'd see at the exhibit if you were visiting the zoo today.
"Both Dane and Jenny share a common fence with the baby so they can share in the common introduction process," Butler said. "Jenny is a female reticulated giraffe that we opened the zoo with in 1993. "
Dane, however, is a Masai giraffe and breeding bull. He towers above us all, not only in height but his importance to the species' survival.
"As far as Dane's genetics, he is on the list of animals that need to breed," Butler said.
According to Butler, Dane ranks number two out of 130 giraffes' genetic diversity on the current species survival plan for Masai giraffes.
"They want him to breed," she said. "The species survival plan looks at population and what will create a sustainable population with enough genetic diversity for up to 100 years to come."
Penelope isn't far behind Dane in regards to the current species survival plan, both Butler and Lee said.
"Penelope is number 11, so they are really high on this list because they want genetics from them," Lee said. "So it's important we had this calf, which is amazing."
According to Butler and Lee, residents can expect to see the newborn calf and Penelope in the exhibit soon, and they appreciate the work and passion those at the zoo have poured into the birth process in recent weeks.
The naming contest is underway for Cameron Park Zoo’s giraffe calf. It’s $5 to register your choice for the contest, which runs until February 10.
Participants have the choice of choosing between the final names of Prince, Duke, and Zeke. All proceeds will go towards the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, and you can cast your vote by visiting this link.