December 9 2013 Latest news:
Saturday, August 24, 2013
She’s a 150lb baby who at two-weeks-old is already more than six feet tall. New EDP readers have the chance to name the newest arrivial at Africa Alive! in Kessingland. STACIA BRIGGS meets of the tallest babies in Britain.
Her nickname might be “Little Lady” but at six feet tall, she’s definitely the biggest baby I’ve ever met.
With her long dark eyelashes, slender neck and slightly wobbly balance, the two-week-old reticulated giraffe has been drawing crowds of eager admirers since she was unveiled to visitors at Africa Alive! on Tuesday.
And it’s not hard to see why this gigantic baby is melting hearts.
Firstly, although her parents Mahari and Kimoni are just feet away in the giraffe enclosure at the Kessingland wildlife park, the littlest giraffe is virtually an orphan, abandoned by her mother just hours after birth.
Secondly, she’s absolutely stunning with her warm brown coat broken into the distinctive giraffe-patchwork pattern by a net of cream, her huge dark eyes fanned with feathery lashes and her awkwardly-long legs which cause her to skitter about her pen like a spring lamb.
And thirdly, if you’re lucky enough to be granted an audience with this leggy youngster, there’s her natural affection towards humans which means that I am now able to say that I’ve had my fingers sucked by a baby giraffe. There’s a boast to take to the pub. After an astonishing 15 months of pregnancy, many baby giraffes are rejected by first-time mothers. Having dropped a dizzying six feet from her mother into the bed of hay prepared by keepers, the Kessingland baby was discovered early on August 9 having been cleaned – and then ignored by mum Mahari.
“Her mum was only with her for a few hours so we had to take over the feeding quickly because without it, she’d have died,” said zookeeper Sarah Kelly, who with colleagues Louise Knock and Terry Hornsey feeds the baby giraffe four times a day.
“We knew that Mahari was due to give birth, but we didn’t know when it would happen. We’d come in every morning, look and think ‘not today, then’, so when we saw the baby it was really exciting. Nothing beats it.”
Sarah has previously hand-reared meerkats (“much smaller bottles than you use with a giraffe!”) and servals, an African wild cat, jobs which required round-the-clock bottle-feeding unlike the little giraffe, who is fed at 9am, noon, 4pm and 9pm.
“You can’t take a giraffe home, for obvious reasons, so it’s great that she can go through the night without needing a feed.
“In the first few days, we all wore the same coat so she got used to the same smell,” she added.
“I always let her suck my finger before I introduce the teat from the bottle into her mouth and she’s drinking Jersey milk because it’s really rich and will help her to grow.”
Africa Alive!’s new star attraction is quick to introduce herself when we step inside her pen.
Kept apart from the larger giraffes for her own safety, the baby is used to humans and will approach them, hoping for an extra milk feed.
Almost a foot taller than I am at 6ft, the little giraffe skitters over to where Sarah and I are standing, clearly listening to our conversation and hoping that we come bearing bottles.
After nuzzling Sarah, she moves to me and expectantly sucks my fingers and I get a bird’s eye view (presuming the bird is six foot in the air) of the famously bluey-purple giraffe tongue (“tongue sunblock for giraffes! They spend so much time eating leaves in the sun that it’d burn if it wasn’t purple”).
Then, spooked by a noise outside the pen, the baby giraffe sets off at a gallop, her long legs struggling to keep up with her fast pace before she comes to a stop and a scratch against the wall of her pen.
Looking on like a proud mother, Sarah admits it’s impossible not to get attached to such a beautiful baby.
“You try not to, but it’s hard, especially when you hand-rear an animal. She knows my voice, she knows when I’m outside and we have a bond that is really special,” she adds.
“Obviously we’d prefer it if her Mum had wanted to look after her, but it’s a privilege to be able to feed and help her. I’m not sure whether that bond will mean she’ll listen to me more when I’m older or play up more because she thinks she can get away with it!
“She really needs a name now. We call her Little Lady, but she won’t be little for much longer, so she needs a name of her own.”
The baby giraffe will be kept apart from the older giraffes at Africa Alive! until she is far bigger, at which point she will live with the other giraffes, including her parents and fellow giraffes Kiara, Snippet and Puzzle.