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Franny, a 17-year-old reticulated giraffe at Brookfield Zoo, gave birth to a male calf a little after noon on August 15. Many visitors were able to observe the start of the birth before Franny went to an off-exhibit outdoor yard to deliver her calf.

After his birth, the calf selected a nesting site in the corner of an off-exhibit space. (In the wild, a giraffe calf spends most of its first week hiding, while the mother returns throughout the day and night to nurse the calf. In the last few days, the nearly 6-foot-tall newborn ventured to the exhibit area inside Habitat Africa! The Savannah, where zoo guests can now see him and his mother. For the next week or so, Franny and her calf will remain separated from the other giraffes to allow for good maternal bonding and to make sure the calf is developing normally. They will then be slowly introduced to the herd, which includes three other females—Mithra, 17; Jasiri, 3; and Arnieta (one of Franny’s calves), 19 months.

This calf is the 57th giraffe born at Brookfield Zoo and Franny’s third offspring. His birth is a very important addition to the North American zoo population because his father’s genetic line is not fully represented. The pairing of Franny and the sire, Dusti, who died earlier this year, was based on a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Population Management Plan (PMP). A PMP provides basic pairing recommendations for zoo and aquarium species to ensure genetic diversity, the health of individual animals, and the long-term survival of the zoo population.

In the coming months, Chicago Zoological Society zookeepers will be documenting the mother-infant interactions, as well as the calf’s developmental milestones, such as first standing, first nursing, etc. These valuable data are shared with other zoological facilities to help shape the care of this species nationwide.

Following a 14½-month gestation period, mother giraffes give birth while standing, thus resulting in an approximately five-foot drop delivery of the calf. Researchers believe that this helps to get the calf’s heart started and clears its breathing tubes. Within an hour after birth, the calf born at Brookfield Zoo was standing. When full grown, he could potentially reach 18 feet tall.

Giraffes are the tallest animals in the world. Their elongated necks have very elastic blood vessels and valves to compensate for the sudden change in blood pressure when they lower their heads to get a drink of water. Even though their necks are so long, they have the same number of neck bones as a human: seven.

They have only two gaits—a slow, ambling walk and a gallop, reaching speeds up to 35 mph. They walk by swinging the two legs on the same side of the body forward at the same time. When galloping, the hind legs are brought forward and ahead of the front legs. Their front legs are longer than the rear legs—an extra advantage when stretching for leaves. For those leaves that seem just out of reach, giraffes bridge the gap with a strong, flexible, gray, 17-inch-long tongue that is able to grasp leaves from even the thorniest branches.

Reticulated giraffes are the most distinctively patterned of the many subspecies of giraffe. Their coat has brown, regular, box-like patterns (called a reticulated pattern). White spaces between the patches form narrow lines. This elaborate pattern is good camouflage for them in their natural habitat, which consists of dry savannahs and open woodlands in northeastern Kenya. Although somewhat common in the wild, their numbers have decreased due to land-use competition.