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Diet, Exercise and 'Giraffe Hugs': Up Close and Personal with April and Her Baby
The baby received a clean bill of health during his first checkup, and is getting plenty of attention from mama April.
Credit: Animal Adventure Park

April, the internet-famous giraffe, finally delivered her long-expected calf on April 15 at Animal Adventure Park (AAP) in Harpursville, New York. The as-yet-unnamed baby, a male, weighed 129 pounds (58.5 kilograms) at birth and stood 5 feet 9 inches (nearly 2 meters) tall.

Today (April 17), Jordan Patch, AAP's owner, updated Live Science on how the AAP veterinarian and April's caregivers are monitoring the nursing mother and her newborn, and described how the new arrival is adapting to life in the spotlight.

This Q&A has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Live Science: How quickly does a baby giraffe grow, and what are the big milestones?

Patch: Now that we're really passed the hard part, which is the animal getting on its feet and making sure it nursed from the mother, we're watching weight gain. We're looking for the calf to gain about 1 to 3 percent of its body weight per week. Just overnight, he experienced about a pound to a pound-and-a-half of weight gain, which is a great progression. [Watch Live: April and Her Newborn Calf Get Acquainted

The next big thing will be when calf and mom enter the yard with one another and the calf experiences the outdoors — frolics and plays and learns to keep its balance in a bigger space when it's running around. The calf should be able to go outside by the weekend [April 22–23]. Then from there, we watch the calf grow. At about three months of age, we'll see it begin to investigate hay, nibbling on it. But by no means is it sustained yet by that kind of a food source, it will still rely on mom.

Live Science: Is April's diet different now that she's a nursing mother?

Patch: The diet changed for her when she was about six months pregnant. We upped her normal diet, which is Wild Herbivore Pellet, to Wild Herbivore Pellet Plus. Those diets are made by a company called Mazuri Diets, and they develop specialized diets for animals in captive management programs — everything from giraffes and rhinos to flamingos and bears. Her caloric intake is still increased, along with additional calcium and other vitamins and minerals to ensure that she can produce milk and continue that mammary development.

Live Science: Is the calf nervous around people, and how does April respond to being separated from her newborn?

Patch: The baby is actually quite adventurous for such a young calf, that's something we've all noticed and documented. He's out and exploring. And the few visitors we've had in the barn, he comes right over to say hello. So right off the bat, he's showing a very social personality. As for mom, when we split mom up from baby in the morning to get height and weight measurements, well, she was much better today versus yesterday. But she was still a little anxious and pacing, and very much wanted to get back with her baby.

Live Science: How often is the calf examined?

Patch: The vet is onsite every day to check on the calf. The basic exam is done by keepers in the morning; we take the height measurement and the weight measurement. We have a basic digital household scale — we put it on the ground and get a baseline reading of, for example, my body weight. And then I will pick up the calf and stand on the scale and get that reading. And we deduct my body weight from that to get an accurate reading of the calf's current size.

When the vet comes in, he's listening to the heart, he's listening to the lungs, he's examining the umbilical cord area to make sure we're getting a good heal, dry and fall-off of the remaining cord. And as baby begins to start to defecate, we want to look at that to see the consistency, and take samples to make sure all is in order.

Live Science: The baby and his father, Oliver, seem interested in each other — through a screen. Will they have any face-to-face interaction at all?

Patch: In due time, we hope to be able to combine all three animals together. Oliver's curious nature is already a very positive sign, because usually giraffe males do not take part in any of the rearing of the young. The fact that Oliver is so calm and inquisitive is promising to us that eventually they will share space, but we won't try that for another couple of months.

Live Science: Has April's interaction with Oliver changed now that the baby's part of the picture?

Patch: She's certainly protective of the calf around Oliver. But we still do get snippets of time where she goes over and they greet one another, and lick each other and engage in what I guess you'd consider a giraffe hug.

Live Science: What would you say is the secret to April's internet success? Why do you think she captured the widespread audience that she did?

Patch: I think it's attributed to the genuine and organic nature of the "giraffe cam." I think people were inquisitive and not only wanting to learn more about giraffe birth, but also to see behind the scenes, and to see the care and effort that go into maintaining these giraffes by their keepers and staff. This sense of voyeurism — almost a reality-TV-show-like approach through the giraffe cam — has really garnered an emotional connection between the fans and us.

Original article on Live Science.