Zoo visitors can meet three baby animals

Births of reticulated giraffe, nyala and addax antelope will help their species survive

Most fans of Brookfield Zoo know about the upcoming fun promised at the annual Boo at the Zoo! event (see Page 26 for details). But they might not know a visit to the zoo also means the chance to see several calves born this year, including a reticulated giraffe.

"The pitter patter of little hooves is what we're calling it," said Joan Daniels, senior director of hooved mammal care and conservation for the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo. "We seem to be having a baby boom of some sort."

Arnieta, the zoo's 16-year-old reticulated giraffe, gave birth to a female calf Aug. 19. Four-year-old Zola, a nyala, gave birth Aug. 29 to a male calf, her third offspring and her second born this year. The zoo also welcomed two addax antelope this year, a female born in March and a male born to 4-year-old Ivy in August.

"They're all doing really well. We're very happy to say the mothers are doing an excellent job of taking care of the calves," Daniels said.

The births are all designed to help boost the population of the three African species.

"These are all planned births," Daniels said. "We work with the (Association of Zoos and Aquariums') Species Survival Plan to put our animals together for breeding. We know they are genetically compatible with each other."

The nyala population is stable, but the species still has threats, including habitat loss due to agriculture and cattle grazing, and hunting, according to a press release from the zoo. The addax antelope is critically endangered, with estimates of less than 100 animals remaining in the wild.

And the reticulated giraffe is now considered an endangered species as well, a fact that surprises many, Daniels said.

"People aren't aware that all the species of giraffes that are found in Africa are facing quite a bit of pressure and the number of giraffes in the wild has dropped significantly," she said.

The giraffe's birth was highly anticipated, not only because the pregnancy lasted 15 months, but because mom Arnieta had miscarriages in 2021 and 2022. She received a daily regiment of liquid synthetic progesterone and antibiotics (put on her favorite food, leaf lettuce) about a third of the way through her pregnancy.

"I think the story has been very interesting to a lot of zoo visitors and the press because it's very comparable to what humans go through to try to sustain pregnancy," Daniels said.

Offering this kind of support to a pregnant giraffe is new for the zoo, Daniels said. The veterinary endocrinologist on staff is making a real difference.

"She has been doing some wonderful work helping all different types of species become effective mothers and raise their offspring," she said.

The giraffe calf, named Kinda (which has Swahili and Arabic origins and means "beautiful"), spent some time alone with her mom for the first three weeks after she was born. She has been on display in Habitat Africa since early September.

"They're social animals, so the next step is to let mom and baby back in with the herd, which is their normal social grouping," Daniels said. "That's when we want our visitors to be able to see them."

Unlike the giraffe, the nyala and addax were born in the habitat, with lucky visitors able to observe.

Daniels said not many visitors realize just how much goes on behind the scenes before a zoo baby is born.

"I just think the whole process is so interesting," she said. "I think people are surprised by the level of care that goes into taking care of animals that are reproducing."

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean