This newsworthy event has captured the world’s and my attention
Given the nature of my mind, I’m easily distracted and drift towards things that require a curiosity but not much personal investment of energy. It may even be called procrastination.
Last month, a feed crossed my Facebook feed. “Giraffe giving birth.” I must have had at least four projects in the works so I clicked on the video. In adjacent stalls at Animal Adventure Park, the majestic April and Oliver stood next to each other, the perfect cougar relationship. She’s a young fifteen-year-old, and he’s a mature five-year-old. They are both reticulated giraffes.
The reticulated giraffe, also known as the Somali giraffe, is one of four species and is native to Somalia, southern Ethiopia, and northern Kenya. There are only 8500 in the wild. April is part of the captive breeding program. The other species are Southern, Northern, and Masai giraffes each sport unique identifying patterns and colors.
I’m back to the video. April is pregnant and at peace with herself and her surroundings. I can tell. We, along with five-point-five-million viewers, have an instant connection. She walks with grace around her stall (or lies down) and chews her cud, like a cow, when she is not eating. While consuming food, she can remain motionless for minutes on end. It feels like the live feed is broken until the telltale flick of her tail.
April’s beautiful face is not expressive. Her long black tongue begs for lettuce and carrots. Very cute. Her ears flick back and forth much like a horse. However, her most important feature is her tail which telegraphs her state of mind and body.
Everyone, including me, knows that when her tail lifts, April is ready to pee, poop, or push. Her long neck arches dramatically, lengthening her to full height, stretches horizontally to save steps as she eats from her trough, and reaches downward for a rich green hay. Still, the only thing her viewers like me want to know is: what is her tail doing?
I can’t stand it. She doesn’t turn around enough, butt facing the camera. How will I know when she’s ready? Without a second thought of betrayal, I go to YouTube and watch two other giraffes give birth. I see the tail signal, the first twelve inches of hooves, then nose, shoulders, and the drop of the calf to the floor. I’m practically a veterinarian.
It’s been a month of watching. Not twenty-four-seven, but first thing in the morning, midday, and last thing at night. I know her patterns and her tail. I can tell you she’s been in false labor several times. And though I will her to deliver, touch the screen, and commune with her, April is determined to follow her own giraffe time.
It’s not the animal park’s fault the gestation time is suspect. Female giraffes come into season every seventeen days. They don’t show for months. Once, the pregnancy is confirmed, there has to be an estimate of conception and a count forward of fifteen months. Not an exacting science from my month-long observations.
Today, her tail went straight out from her body. Oh My God!, she waited until I tuned it. I knew it. She’d chosen me to watch the birth of her fourth calf. I felt honored, lucky, to be there for her after all we’ve been through. The sign remained for a long minute. A slight droop. A poop. A return to normal.
In the background, ever watchful, is Oliver, the dad. He knows something is going…and then he doesn’t. They exchange touches over the dividers, share enriched hay from the feeder, and play with enrichment toys. Their interactions are limited by their three-second attention span. This all limits bonding between giraffes. Males are just for breeding. They do not stay around to help raise the young.
As I say this, April appears to be in labor. Oliver is prancing around his cell. She has noticed and walks over to him. They nuzzle each other through the large-holed mesh. It is more than possible that not every giraffe fits the species’ profile. It’s one thing to be out on the African plains, surrounded by the herd and it’s strict but minimal societal structure. It’s quite another to have a home with only two.
It is interesting how in tune Oliver is with her impending delivery. Not sure it is a much relational as it is biological. He is aroused by the smell of April’s hormonal changes and false labor. Nevertheless, he stays close to the divider and she acknowledges his presence.
My watch is not over. Every tail flick has meaning. It will be soon. The baby’s moving. It’s amazing that a six-foot, one-hundred-sixty-pound baby can be folded up inside such an amazing creature.
April and Oliver, separate and together, breaking rules, sharing the moment, and bonding for now. On a side note, and not to take away from the majesty of the moment, my husband saw me in labor and turned white. He stayed in the waiting room. Told me later, he couldn’t stand to watch me in pain. In comparison, Oliver is being a rock.
The world’s natural wonders are worth a breath, an acknowledgment of that which is greater than ourselves, beyond our control, and a testament to beauty, and the cycle of life. I think she’ll deliver beautiful, healthy calf tonight, 3/23/2017,
And, so it is with awe, that I sit, watching the live stream, and waiting for April.