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Surprise pregnancy for giraffe causing high risk birth concern for Dickerson Park Zoo officials

Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 5:27 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - A surprise pregnancy at the Dickerson Park Zoo has officials worried about both mom and baby.

Emma, a 16-year-old giraffe, is expecting which is an unexpected development to her keepers and a high risk because conception occurred while she was receiving birth control treatments.

“We’re not sure exactly how this happened we just know that it did,” said Dr. Stephanie Zec, Dickerson Park Zoo’s Veterinarian. “It could be a number of things. Giraffe skin is one of the thickest of all mammals. Because of that the injection could have been given in the skin and not the muscle and it needs to be absorbed in the muscle to really take effect. Also the solution separates easily so maybe it wasn’t mixed up enough. There’s all sorts of possibilities.”

The gestation period for a giraffe is 15 months and Emma is estimated to be 12-13 months along in her pregnancy. She has had three successful pregnancies and one calf born with health issues, which passed away shortly after birth.

No one noticed Emma was pregnant for about a year even though the mating of giraffes is closely monitored.

“Our keepers are incredibly observant,” Zec said. “And we breed according to the recommendation from the Species Survival Program. While you may see giraffes we see genetics so we breed according to what is recommended for genetics and right now we weren’t recommended to be breeding. That’s why we had them on birth control because we wait until the SSP says we’re approved for breeding.”

But apparently Emma and the only male giraffe at the zoo, Grady, got together at night when no chaperones were around to monitor them and Grady didn’t care about the no-breeding rules.

“Apparently not,” Zec said with a laugh. “He’s lovable trouble.”

Mackenzie Daniel and her three year-old daughter Quinn learned of the news while they were feeding Emma and were also told of another unique fact about pregnant giraffes...their contractions can go on for over a month.

“Yeah, imagine going through that for a full month, moms,” Zec said.

“No thank you. That does not sound like much fun,” Daniel reacted. “But we enjoy coming out to see the giraffes and feed and interact with them.”

Zec said they are expecting the birth sometime between now and December and are worried about a high-risk medical outcome.

“With her being on birth control her body hormones may be a little bit out of whack and her body may not realize when it’s time to give birth,” Zec explained. “So that baby giraffe can overcook in the oven. We may need to do a C-section and giraffe anesthesia carries a high risk so it could unfortunately be a situation where we lose both baby and mom.”

The zoo staff is doing everything possible to make sure that doesn’t happen including closely monitoring Emma for signs of labor as well as preparing an indoor birthing area and hand-raising materials for the calf.

Meanwhile Mackenzie and Quinn are excited about the possible new addition.

“Yeah! We’ll be back when that little baby’s out here to come see it,” Mackenzie said.

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