Brookfield, Ill. — The approximately 15-month wait is over! The Chicago Zoological Society is excited to announce that Arnieta, a 16-year-old reticulated giraffe at Brookfield Zoo, gave birth to a female calf in the early morning hours of August 19. It will be a few weeks before the calf makes her public debut outdoors at Habitat Africa! The Savannah and she and Arnieta are reunited with other members of the giraffe herd. Staff anticipates the two will remain behind the scenes until early September to allow time for maternal bonding. This calf is the 60th giraffe born at the Zoo since 1940, and has had giraffes since it first opened in 1934.
Since mid-July, animal care staff at Brookfield Zoo has been on baby watch. Following an hour of labor, Arnieta gave birth to her approximately 6-foot-tall and approximately 130-pound calf in a behind-the-scenes area, where she had been separated from the rest of the herd in anticipation of her giving birth. Shortly after the birth, the calf stood up and began nursing from her attentive mother.
Arnieta’s pregnancy was confirmed in July 2022. Due to experiencing two miscarriages in 2021 and 2022, the veterinary and animal care staff at the Zoo started the expectant mother on an innovative medical plan based on the understanding her previous losses were related to a lack of hormone production or a possible infection. About a third of the way into her pregnancy, Arnieta received a daily regimen of liquid synthetic progesterone and prophylactic antibiotics. In early June, Arnieta was weaned off the medication to help ensure her pregnancy did not last longer than needed.
"We are so excited to welcome this new addition and look forward to our guests coming out to see her," said Joan Daniels, senior director of hooved mammal care and conservation for the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo. "Due to the dedicated veterinary and animal care staff at Brookfield Zoo along with assistance from reproductive experts at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Arnieta was able to carry her calf to term. We hope the collaborative efforts and knowledge gained in caring for Arnieta during her pregnancy will be useful in helping other species with similar reproductive complications have successful births in professional care."
A calf is born while the mother is standing up—falling about 5 feet to the ground—and gains its footing within an hour after birth. For the first month or two, the calf is relatively inactive, mostly standing, looking around, and nursing. This enables its energy to be used for growth, which can be as much as 3 feet in its first six months. By the time a calf is a year old, it is weaned from its mother and becomes independent between 12 and 16 months of age. Sadly, due to predation, the mortality rate of wild-born giraffe calves is more than 50 percent.
This is Arnieta’s second calf, previously giving birth to a male in 2012. The calf’s sire is a 7-year-old Ato, who arrived at Brookfield Zoo in 2017. This is his first offspring. The pairing of the two was based on a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP), which is a cooperative population management program for select species in accredited North American zoos and aquariums. Each plan manages the breeding of a species to maintain a healthy and self-sustaining population that is both genetically diverse.
Reticulated giraffes are found across northern and north-eastern Kenya and small populations in southern Ethiopia and along the south-eastern border of Somalia. The species is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). The Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) estimates that only about 16,000 individuals remain in their native habitat. Causes for the decline of reticulated giraffes include habitat loss and fragmentation, increased poaching, and political unrest. (GCF estimates the current total of all giraffe species in Africa to be about 117,000 individuals, a decrease from the more than 155,000 that existed in the 1980s.)
Through AZA’s SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) program, accredited zoos, including Brookfield Zoo, and their partners are working collectively to help save giraffes through education, scientific study, fieldwork, public awareness, and action. As efforts continue to ensure a growing giraffe population, Brookfield Zoo is committed to advancing how zoological experts can expand prenatal care for the species.
Video Credit: CZS-Brookfield Zoo
Photo Credits: Jim Schulz/CZS-Brookfield Zoo