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Belfast Zoo visitors' surprise as they witness birth of endangered Rothschild's giraffe calf

By Claire Williamson

Published 14/04/2016

Visitors got a surprise at Belfast Zoo on Tuesday 5 April when they witnessed the birth of an endangered Rothschild's giraffe calf.
Visitors got a surprise at Belfast Zoo on Tuesday 5 April when they witnessed the birth of an endangered Rothschild's giraffe calf.
Rothschilds giraffe are one of the most endangered of the nine subspecies of giraffe.

Visitors at Belfast Zoo got a surprise this week as they witnessed the birth of an endangered Rothschild's giraffe calf.

The latest arrival to the herd was born to mother, Neja and father, Finn.

After a gestation period of approximately 15 months, keepers noticed that Neja was displaying signs of labour on Tuesday morning.

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They carefully monitored the situation and eventually Neja gave birth to a healthy calf, in the outdoor area, in front of astounded visitors.

It has become a tradition for calves born at Belfast Zoo to be named after towns and villages in Northern Ireland, so once they know the sex, keepers will pick a name.

Senior keeper, Peter Cross, witnessed the arrival of the lcalf.

"We were onsite throughout the birth to monitor the situation and to ensure that everything went smoothly", he said.

"Neja gave birth outdoors with the rest of the herd and to the delight of many zoo visitors, who got to witness the event.  Giraffe give birth standing up and the calf falls more than five feet to the ground.

"The calf learns to stand within 30 minutes after birth and can run just 10 hours later.  Since the birth, we have been giving mother and calf time to bond, so we have not yet had the chance to find out what sex the latest arrival is. 

"Belfast Zoo first became home to giraffe in 1988 and this is the 35th calf to be born at Cave Hill and Neja and Finn’s third calf, showing the success of our conservation efforts.”

Giraffes are one of the world’s most iconic and loved animals but they are facing increasing threats in the wild due to poaching and habitat destruction. 

It is estimated that giraffe populations have decreased by 40% in just 15 years.  Rothschild’s giraffes are one of the most endangered of the nine subspecies of giraffe and Belfast Zoo’s herd is part of a European breeding programme.

With research showing that there may be as few as 2500 mature Rothschild’s giraffes left in the wild, the subspecies is on the brink of becoming ‘critically endangered’ and the conservation role of zoos is becoming even more critical.

Zoo curator, Alyn Cairns, said: “This is an exciting time in the giraffe house with the arrival of our latest calf but we are also delighted to announce that we will soon be launching our brand new giraffe experiences.

"These experiences will take place every Saturday and Sunday between April and September and will allow visitors to spend 30 minutes behind the scenes with the giraffe keepers and to get the chance to feed the giraffe herd."

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