A giraffe calf feeds from its mother in the savannah, its native habitat, in Tanzania.
A viral live feed showing April the giraffe giving birth at Animal Adventure Park in upstate New York finally came to a climax Saturday morning, after almost two months of continuous viewership from around the world.
The stream originally faced controversy after tens of millions tuned in on its first weekend live. In detailed Q&A videos, the owner of the animal park defended the park against a slew of well-meaning critics who have been questioning the state of her straw, feeding containers, outdoor enclosures and any number of other particulars.
One fan’s complaint to YouTube about the live feed of the pregnant giraffe even caused YouTube to take the feed down briefly for “nudity/sexual content.” The fan apparently claimed livestreaming the birth of a baby giraffe was vulgar and perhaps exploitative. (See the rare sight of a gelada monkey birth, captured by a National Geographic photographer.)
And yet hundreds of thousands watched the giraffe’s birth on Saturday morning, with most reactions overwhelmingly positive and many of them commenting on the miracle of life.
But while this young giraffe is thriving—and will be up and running very soon—the population of giraffes worldwide is declining. (Read more about animals raised in wildlife sanctuaries and zoos.)
Giraffes Are in Danger of Extinction
Giraffes are endangered. Over the past 15 years, numbers of the world's tallest animal have plummeted from an estimated 140,000 to a low of about 80,000. That's a shockingly precipitous drop from the possibly more than 2 million animals that roamed the continent 150 years ago, according to the Namibia-based Giraffe Conservation Foundation.
The giants strike many as so gentle and unobtrusive—quietly grazing on treetops, bending down to touch noses with a newborn—that discovering that they too, like most of the world's megafauna, are headed toward extinction seems counterintuitive, especially considering the recent outpouring of love for the creatures.
Like many other creatures the world over, the long-necked herbivores have declined mostly due to habitat loss and threats from the growing human population, such as poaching.
But this can get overlooked–in part because many conservation groups are focused on protecting other endangered African species, such as elephants, rhinoceroses, chimpanzees, and gorillas.
Giraffe Pregnancies Last More Than a Year
April’s fans had a long wait before her calf came into the world—it’s been almost two months since Animal Adventure Park set up a live feed anticipating the birth, and April was already 13 months pregnant. But a typical gestation period for giraffes can last up to 15 months.
Baby Giraffes Fall Into the World
Female giraffes give birth standing up. Their young endure a rather rude welcome into the world–as April’s calf did–by falling more than 5 feet to the ground at birth. These infants can stand within half an hour and run with their mothers an incredible ten hours after birth.
Scientists Don’t Agree
Lack of scientific consensus doesn’t help with giraffes' predicament, and actually makes the animals harder to catalogue. Up until recently, the consensus has been there is only one species of giraffe with multiple subspecies—April is a reticulated giraffe, one of those subspecies. In 2016, some scientists released a study that claims genetic differences among giraffe populations indicate the existence of four distinct giraffe species. (Learn more about giraffes.)
Giraffes Are Speedy
You may know that giraffes are the world's tallest mammals, thanks to their towering legs and long necks. A giraffe's legs alone are taller than many humans—about 6 feet. But they are also incredibly fast: They run as fast as 35 miles an hour over short distances–faster than Usain Bolt–and cruise comfortably at 10 miles an hour over longer distances.
Giraffes Have Long Tongues
Giraffes use their height to good advantage and browse on leaves and buds in treetops that few other animals can reach (acacias are a favorite). Giraffes also have incredibly long tongues, as April proved in her viral video. The 21-inch tongue helps them pluck leaves from branches–and assists in the birth process.
Giraffes Eat All the Time, but Drink Rarely
Giraffes eat most of the time and, like cows, regurgitate food and chew it as cud. A giraffe eats hundreds of pounds of leaves each week and must travel miles to find enough food.
The giraffe's stature can be a disadvantage as well—it is difficult and dangerous for a giraffe to drink at a water hole. To do so, they must spread their legs and bend down in an awkward position that makes them vulnerable to predators like Africa's big cats. Giraffes only need to drink once every several days; they get most of their water from the plants they eat. A giraffe in captivity eating hay would therefore need more water than those in the wild.
—Virginia Morell contributed to this story.