One Tall Order: OKC Zoo Provides Update on Giraffe Julu’s Pregnancy

Julu, the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden’s beloved six-year-old giraffe, is expecting her first offspring in the near future. In December 2020, the Zoo announced the pregnancies of Julu and her mother, Ellie, with an approximate delivery timespan of June 2021 for both females. While giraffe, Ellie, delivered her sixth calf, Kioni, on June 3, 2021, Julu continues to progress well through her pregnancy. Giraffes have a gestation period of around 15 months, however, like humans, delivery can happen early or late – dependent on the individual. Two months after Julu’s approximated delivery time, we’re providing a much-anticipated pregnancy update.

As with all giraffe pregnancies at the Zoo, the hoofstock care team records and monitors the physical and behavioral changes of expectant mothers. Julu was paired with three-year-old, Demetri, as part of a breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival PlanTM (SSP) for Giraffes. The date of the pair’s conception was based on observations of Demetri’s behavior toward Julu. When Demetri began demonstrating a lack of interest in Julu, the hoofstock care and veterinary teams felt confident in confirming Julu’s pregnancy. However, because Julu and Demetri were provided regular overnight access to one another when caretakers weren’t present, there were likely breeding interactions that were not observed, which led to the birth window being later than initially expected. 

Though Julu is past her first tentative delivery date, hoofstock caretakers continue to observe positive behaviors and signs of exceptional health. For a first-time mother like Julu, the physical changes to indicate birth may not be as evident as compared to Julu’s experienced mother, Ellie, who has delivered six calves at the Zoo.

Julu’s care team continues to monitor her and have seen signs of restlessness, discomfort and changes in her appetite throughout her pregnancy– all indicative signs of an upcoming delivery. One of the most exciting and important observations caretakers have witnessed is fetal movement. Early in her pregnancy, Julu appeared to be more reactive to these movements, whereas now she shows little interest. Julu still maintains a healthy appetite and is spending more time at the giraffe feeding experience snacking on browse and lettuce compared to the same time last year.

As we await the arrival of Julu’s first offspring, Julu’s interactions with Ellie’s two-month-old calf, Kioni, have been positive. She shows signs of patience and attentiveness toward Kioni. Julu has been observed leaving the Zoo’s giraffe feeding platform to check on Kioni. Caretakers have also witnessed Julu stepping between Kioni and other herd members who appear to be too curious of the newborn calf. These observations may serve as a small indicator of how Julu will approach being a first-time mother.

In the meantime, caretakers are prepared for the upcoming arrival of Julu’s calf. 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, Julu will be brought into a specially-prepared birthing stall inside the giraffe barn. Thick layers of bedding are laid throughout the birthing stall to ensure a safe delivery, as giraffes give birth while standing.

The Zoo will continue to provide updates on Julu’s pregnancy, as well as regular updates on Ellie’s calf, Kioni, through its social media platforms. 

Fast Giraffe Calf Facts

  • Giraffe calves are born head and front feet first.
  • 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.
  • New calves are quite large, at 6 feet tall, 100 to 150 lbs. Ellie’s calf, Kioni, was 157 pounds and six-foot-one at birth.
  • Baby giraffes begin nursing within the first hour of life. For the first nine to twelve months, the babies drink milk from their mother.

- Brian Frank, assistant curator of hoofstock

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