HEMMINGFORD, Quebec — One could argue that birth is the most natural thing in the world. There’s no question that a baby giraffe is one of the cutest things in the world.
A week ago Sunday, visitors to Parc Safari in Hemmingford, Quebec were able to experience both. A yet unnamed baby female giraffe was born on Aug. 3 around 2:30 p.m., with an audience of people – including several Franklin County residents – looking on. She’s the first baby giraffe to be born at the park in 23 years. The last giraffe born there, 13-foot-tall Agathe, has been helping the baby’s 4-year-old mother, 12-foot-tall, Bonnie, take care of the little one.
The baby giraffe is now just over a week old, already measuring over six feet tall and weighing over 100 pounds. All three of the giraffes are currently in a separate enclosure from the other animals in the park while the baby is cared for, and to protect her from a certain rhinoceros christened “Crusher.”
In addition to her biological mother and Agathe, the park’s zoologists and caretakers are also looking after the baby giraffe. Chief zoologist Frank Lavigne, who’s worked at Parc Safari for 12 years now, has become the baby’s “adoptive father.” He said Saturday that someone is watching the little giraffe at all hours of the day and night. With the baby’s birth being a unique occurrence for the park, its visitors, and for the endangered giraffe species, Lavigne and others want to do whatever they can to ensure things go well.
“You want to make sure everything is perfect,” Lavigne said.
Parc Safari zoologists knew Bonnie was pregnant at the beginning of the park’s season in May, though they weren’t quite sure when the baby would come. Like a true father, Lavigne, who lives on the park’s property, woke up every two hours to check on the pregnant giraffe in the time leading up to the birth.
Bonnie finally went into labor last Sunday morning, and Lavigne, other caretakers, and on-looking visitors were on-hand for the unique event. St. Albans resident Kate Larose and her family were among those lucky few that chose last weekend to go to Parc Safari.
“We had good timing apparently,” she said by phone last week. “It was so cool.”
Larose said she and her family arrived around 11 a.m., when Bonnie was just beginning to give birth. Larose and the others could see the legs of the baby emerging, and though they left for a while, they returned just in time to see the baby fall from Bonnie. Larose described the process as a bit violent, but ultimately really neat – baby giraffes need to fall to open up their respiratory systems, and they are sometimes born while their mothers are at a full run.
Though Lavigne and his caretaking team were prepared to deal with any complications during the birth that may make it last up to 72 hours – giraffes are, after all, the tallest land mammal – Lavigne said that other than encouraging Bonnie to stand up during labor and helping clean off the baby after it was born three hours later, the birth was largely unaided, and went smoothly.
“We got lucky,” he said. Lavigne and the caretakers had some worries about Bonnie’s mothering ability, since her mother abandoned her and she had to be raised by humans. However, the problem never materialized – as soon as the caretakers cleaned off the baby, Bonnie began licking her down and took on the role of mother.
“We cannot ask better – since the baby was born, [Bonnie] has taken care of it,” said Lavigne.
The caretakers did take Agathe outside of the enclosure just after the baby was born, just to make sure Bonnie properly bonded with her offspring. Lavigne added that the baby’s father is currently not at the park – he’s part of a breeding program, and travels to help impregnate other giraffes.
After falling down a few times, the baby walked its first few steps – something that must happen within the first hour of birth, since, in the wild, babies are vulnerable to predators. Larose said at this point, all the onlookers became very excited.
“There was a lot of awww-ing – a lot of really excited people,” she said. “People were just generally excited and happy.”
Connecting with the wild
Lavigne said that the birth of a baby giraffe at Parc Safari was not only special event for the giraffe community – Bonnie, Agathe and the baby are all Rothschild’s giraffes, a highly endangered species where only several hundred are left in their natural habitat in protected areas in Kenya and Uganda – but it was also important for visitors to see it happening.
“I think for the public to see something like that is pretty unique,” said Lavigne. “It’s a once in a lifetime chance.”
Now, a week later, crowds of people are still filling the edges of the giraffes’ enclosure to see the baby – on Saturday, the fence was constantly lined with visitors. The young giraffe is continuing to do well – she’s gaining about 20 pounds a week, and growing an inch every four days. Her mother and Agathe are continuing to stay close by, though they do break away to snag a carrot or two from the crowd.
In general, Parc Safari encourages the public to get up close and personal with the animals when safe to do so, whether through feeding the giraffes or driving with open car windows through and petting ostriches, deer, bison, zebras, camels, and other critters.
By interacting closely with animals, said Lavigne, it’s easier for the public to care about their lives, about protecting the land used for their habitat, and their general contribution to the earth community.
“It’s easier to reach people when they can see and touch the animal,” he said.
In addition to meeting the animals, Parc Safari is encouraging the public to be involved in choosing the baby giraffe’s name – a contest is going on until the end of August, and can be entered online at www.parcsafari.com.
Parc Safari is open from mid-May to mid-October each year. Check online for their daily hours, which vary during the season.