Neck and Neck: Update on OKC Zoo Giraffes Ellie and Julu’s Pregnancies

Two of the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden’s giraffes, 20-year-old, Ellie, and five-year-old, Julu, are pregnant and each due to give birth between late April and early May 2021. Caretakers have enjoyed watching the mother-daughter duo experience their pregnancies together. This will be Ellie’s sixth calf to be born at the Zoo and Julu’s first offspring. Three-year-old, Demetri, is the father of both calves, which are also his first offspring.

The average gestation for a giraffe calf is approximately 15 months, so Ellie and Julu are nearly there! As we inch closer to their much-anticipated deliveries, Zoo fans may be wondering who will give birth first. Because Ellie and Julu became pregnant around the same time, it will be neck and neck!

Weighing in at 1,918 and 1,873 pounds, Ellie and Julu’s pregnancies are progressing well. The expectant mothers’ care team continues to monitor them for any significant physical or behavioral changes that could signify an oncoming delivery. At this time, Ellie and Julu’s behavior continues to be consistent. Both giraffes are healthy and their routines including diet, training and exercise, have remained the same.

As the calves continue to grow in size and become more active, caretakers have witnessed regular calf movement in the mothers’ stomachs. When the calves are active, Julu and Ellie react to the movement by tail swatting their bellies, head arching and pacing, which are all normal activities during pregnancy.

Ellie and Julu will continue to remain on habitat, interacting with their herd mates and guests at the Zoo’s daily giraffe feeding experiences, until caretakers observe labor signs. At that time, Ellie and Julu will each be brought into specially-prepared birthing stalls inside the giraffe barn. Because giraffes give birth while standing and the calf is born head and front feet first, the birthing stalls will contain thick layers of bedding.

Once the calves are born, they will spend time indoors to provide time for bonding before venturing outdoors on public view. This will also help caretakers to closely observe the calves and ensure developmental milestones, including nursing, standing and walking, are being reached. A newborn calf will proceed to stand usually within one hour of birth, a natural characteristic that helps it to quickly elude predators in the wild. When caretakers feel that Ellie and Julu have bonded with their calves, introductions to other herd members, including father, Demetri, and two-year-old, Mashamba, will begin.

The OKC Zoo participates in the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s (AZA) Giraffe Species Survival Plan™ (SSP), which made the recommendation to pair Ellie and Julu with Demetri for breeding. SSP programs were developed by the AZA to oversee breeding management and sustainability of select animal species within AZA-member zoos and aquariums. Several of these programs also enhance conservation efforts of these species in the wild as well.

The Zoo will continue to share Ellie and Julu’s pregnancy updates on its social media platforms.

- Tracey Dolphin-Drees, curator of hoofstock and primates

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