Supported by therapeutic shoes and staying close to his mom, Woodland Park Zoo’s 2-week-old giraffe took his first tentative steps outside Thursday morning.
And then he pranced, ran and jumped — behavior normal for young giraffes that “means he’s not in any discomfort,” animal curator Martin Ramirez said. Aunt Tufani and father Dave watched from adjacent enclosures as the giraffe grew more confident and agile as he explored the corral, taking breaks to nurse from Olivia, his 12-year-old mother.
The giraffe’s first trip outside was a positive step in his treatment for rear-leg abnormalities. After he was born May 2, zoo staff noticed a problem: When he first attempted to get up, he couldn’t flex his hooves normally.
“We realized right away we were going to have to help him in some way,” Ramirez said.
His rear feet were out of alignment, a condition known as hyperextended fetlocks — common in horses and known to exist in giraffes. The zoo staff wrapped his legs the next day and soon fitted him with custom therapeutic shoes.
This week, the wooden shoes were replaced with a new pair designed by an equine veterinarian from Kentucky. A textured aluminum base provides grip and is water resistant, and an acrylic mold wraps around the top of the hooves. Purple and black kinesiology tape on the lower legs help stretch his tendons while supporting leg muscles.
The giraffe also got a name this week: “Hasani” (hah-SAW-nee), which means “handsome” in Swahili. The zoo staff settled on his paternal grandfather’s name after considering a name associated with shoes or feet.
“We didn’t want him to have that identity all his life for something that would just be a short-term issue,” Ramirez said.
The zoo’s veterinary team is watching as Hasani’s tendons develop, and they’re optimistic about his prognosis. They expect treatment to continue for up to three months, with shoes being replaced as he keeps growing.
The zoo doesn’t use anesthesia when they treat the giraffe, Ramirez said, but they have to be careful — Hasani is 180 pounds and his weight will soon double. Olivia, his mother, also has to adjust to him leaving for treatment.
A giraffe born with a similar condition wouldn’t survive long in the wild, Ramirez said. But in a similar case in a Kansas zoo, the young giraffe’s legs were healed in three months.
Hasani is expected to be out intermittently for the public to see in the next few days, Ramirez said. He’ll eventually move from the smaller corral to the larger African Savanna area, where he’ll meet the gazelles and zebras that share the area.
Male giraffes typically live with their mothers until they’re 3 or 4 years old, Ramirez said. At that time, depending on Hasani’s overall health, Woodland Park Zoo will consider relocating him for breeding.
The giraffe population in Africa has declined by about 40 percent in the past three decades, largely because of habitat loss, civil unrest and poaching, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The group added giraffes to its “Red List” in 2016, designating that the species is vulnerable to extinction.