Weekly Obsession: Giraffe on maternity leave

Monday, November 15, 2010 at 11:00pm
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Photo courtesy of Nashville Zoo

Around 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 3, Margarita, a Masai giraffe at the Nashville Zoo, gave birth to a brand-new baby girl, making it a quartet of long-limbed safari dwellers living in south Nashville.

As Margarita — named for philanthropist Maggi Margaret Turner, who donated the funds for the zoo’s giraffe habitat — went into labor just after lunch, zookeepers brought the herd inside. No doubt, nervous papa Congo paced back and forth, waiting for news on his mate and their progeny.

And no doubt, Congo smoked the proverbial cigar with excited zookeepers once his as-yet-unnamed daughter came into the world.

Baby and mother are doing fine, and staff members at Grassmere are enthused. She’s the first giraffe born in Nashville as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Masai Giraffe Species Survival Program.

As unusual as giraffe births are — and interesting to watch, surely, what with all that neck and all those legs — it’s nothing compared to the tedium of breeding clouded leopards. Last summer, three clouded leopard cubs were born at the zoo, earning the Grassmere facility some renown: The species is not known to be, shall we say, the most romantic of the big cats.

Males are often aggressive, killing potential mates — not exactly the smoothest path to repopulation. Nashville is one of the key zoos in a consortium that combats the violent behavior by hand-raising cubs, introducing them to mates at young ages.

Indeed, it’s been a busy year in the zoo nursery, as Nashville does its part to perpetuate threatened species.

Mama and calf are “off-exhibit” — no outpatient births for the lanky leaf-eaters — until zookeepers make sure Margarita and Baby G are ready to go outside. “Climatic conditions” being what they are, zoo staff are reluctant for the young’un to take her first walkabout in the decidedly un-savannah-ish weather of a Nashville November.

But Congo is back at the office, showing off pictures of his newborn (probably), seeking advice from his pals in the leopard pen on what it’s like to be a new dad. Maybe they ought ask him for tips on being a good mate.