M any of you have watched our two Masai giraffe calves grow from “tiny” 6-foot tall babies into the gangly juveniles they are today. We have too, and it’s hard not to become attached to these delightful creatures.
But both Buttercup and Asha are leaving: Asha leaves this week (3/21/16) for the Toledo Zoo, and Buttercup goes to San Diego Safari Park, perhaps later this year or early next year.
Our zoo’s giraffe family is just a small part of the population of 120 Masai giraffes that live at 28 North American zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
Just upwards of 100 animals is barely a large enough number to sustain a healthy population into the future. So, every Masai giraffe in captivity is critical to keeping the gene pool robust.
But Michael, the father of our calves, is particularly special. He is the most genetically valuable male Masai giraffe anywhere outside of Africa. Why? Because he has very few relatives in zoos, other than his four offspring.
Growing this family is incredibly important, and we are excited that both Audrey and Betty Lou are pregnant. Giraffe pregnancies last nearly 15 months, which puts Audrey due in the spring, and Betty Lou is due in late summer. Also, both Buttercup and Asha are old enough to leave the Zoo, and will start their own families in a few years.
”Just upwards of 100 animals is barely a large enough number to sustain a healthy population into the future. So, every Masai giraffe in captivity is critical to keeping the gene pool robust.
So, our giraffes play a vitally important role in the “big picture” of captive Masai giraffe population management.
This is why, though we would love to have them stay in Santa Barbara forever, our adorable calves must go off to start their own herds and contribute their valuable genetics to the overall captive population.
The same is true for our Western lowland gorillas, Goma and Kivu, who have reached maturity and are magnificent “silverbacks.” They have been selected to join existing groups of gorillas at other zoos, have the opportunity to breed, and provide more genetic diversity among the gorillas in North America.
But don’t worry: a pair of young brothers will soon arrive in Santa Barbara for a new “bachelor troop.”
The AZA Species Survival Plan (SSP) carefully manages selected species, many of which are threatened or endangered in the wild. There are currently more than 450 SSPs, each managed by an SSP Coordinator who develops recommendations for breeding, as part of a larger management, research, and conservation plan.
I am the SSP Coordinator for Masai giraffes, and am very excited to be working with all of the zoos that care for them throughout North America. It is an honor to contribute to the long-term viability of the Masai giraffe population in human care.
Now aged 10, our male giraffe Michael will not likely leave. Giraffes can breed until around 20 years old, so there are many calves in the future as we continue to help the managed giraffe population thrive.
And (don’t tell him this!), Michael may get a new “girlfriend” at some point in the near future.
One thing is for certain – each time you visit the Zoo, the giraffe yard will always bring a smile, whether you see pregnant or nursing mother giraffes, a doting father looking after his charges, or “tiny” calves galloping around their new world.
We hope you continue to be inspired by these towering creatures, which we are working so diligently to conserve.