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Julius the Reticulated Giraffe calf is taking baby steps toward recovery after facing several challenges in his first few weeks of life.

Born June 15 at the Maryland Zoo, the 143-pound, six-foot tall calf stood on wobbly legs just 20 minutes after birth to first-time mother, Kesi.

19510293_10150851118144987_1687018765733478862_nPhoto Credit: Maryland Zoo

Giraffe calves normally begin nursing within an hour or two of birth, but this was not the case for Julius.  Without this early nursing, Julius was missing out on important antibodies and nutrition in the first milk, known as colostrum, produced by his mother. By the next morning, keepers supplemented Julius’ feeding with a special colostrum formula delivered by bottle.

Although Kesi nuzzled Julius and was protective of him, she still did not nurse her calf after two days.  The Maryland Zoo staff contacted their colleagues at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium to obtain Giraffe plasma in an effort to boost Julius’ immune system. The two teams drove through the night and met in West Virginia to hand off the life-saving plasma. Julius received a transfusion the next morning.

Meanwhile, the zoo staff monitored Julius’ weight and bloodwork daily, hoping that Kesi’s nursing instinct would kick in. But for reasons not known, Julius is still not nursing with any regularity. When Julius was about four days old, the staff began bottle-feeding him multiple times per day.

Except for feeding time and veterinary checks, Julius (so named because his father is called Caesar) spends all his time with Kesi. The two appear to have a strong bond, despite the lack of nursing.

Though Julius has good days, when he gains five pounds in 24 hours, he also has challenging days with minimal weight gain and overall weakness.  His keepers tirelessly deliver expert intensive care, and though Julius still faces many hurdles, the staff remains optimistic about Julius’ future. They are especially heartened by community members and colleagues at Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) zoos who support #TeamJulius.

Julius’ story is a reminder that every Giraffe birth is important to the future of the species. The nine species and subspecies of Giraffe, all native to Africa, are in drastic decline. Their numbers have plummeted 40% in the last two decades. In December 2016, Giraffes were uplisted to Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

See more photos of Julius below.