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The newest and tallest addition to the Houston Zoo is a male Masai Giraffe, born to 5-year-old mom Neema and 6-year old dad Mtembei early on February 25, after a 14-month gestation. The calf weighs 139 pounds (62 kilos), and stands 74 inches tall (1.87 m). “The calf was standing on his own a little over an hour after he was born and was nursing about 4 hours later,” said Hoofed Stock Supervisor John Register. 

The calf has been named Yao by the keepers who cared for Neema through her pregnancy, in honor of former Houston Rockets player Yao Ming. Working with the conservation organization WildAid, Yao Ming has led the world’s largest conservation awareness program spotlighting illegal elephant and rhino poaching in Africa and the shark fin trade in Asia. Yao toured the Zoo’s Giraffe, Rhino and Elephant exhibits on February 14. You can read more about that and his efforts for conservation on the Houston Zoo’s website.

Yao Ming with giraffes

Yao CU

Photo Credit: Stephanie Bledsoe-Adams/Houston Zoo

While Masai Giraffes are not threatened or endangered in their native habitat, there are only about 100 of the species living in 24 North American zoos. Giraffes are the tallest living terrestrial animal.  Males average 17 feet in height and can weigh up to 2,500 pounds.  Female Masai giraffes typically reach a height of 14 feet.  At birth, Masai giraffes weigh between 125 and 150 pounds and stand approximately 6 feet tall.

See more pictures of baby Yao after the fold:

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The baby made his public debut last Saturday, March 2, with Neema at The African Forest giraffe exhibit. With this baby, the Houston Zoo’s herd of Masai giraffe has grown to nine members: six males and three females.