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Column 042715 Wall

Monday, April 27, 2015

Giraffe, Born at Mexico City Zoo, to be named via Online Vote

By Allan Wall

There’s an election going on in Mexico City, and this time it’s not for the city or national government, but to select a name for a giraffe calf born at Mexico City’s Chapultepec Zoo.

The male giraffe calf was born on April 19th, 2015, weighing at birth nearly 50 kilograms (that’s 110 pounds for those of us who think in traditional English weights and measures). 

For some photos of the giraffe calf and his mother, click here and/or here.

The scientific name of the giraffe is Giraffa camelopardalis.  It’s a hoofed animal with a long neck. In fact, it’s the tallest living land animal.   There are nine subspecies in the current classification.  The Spanish word for giraffe is jirafa (here-a-fa).

The giraffe is native to the African continent.  Its current range is from Chad in the north to South Africa in the south, and from Niger in the west to Somalia on the east.  Its habitats include both grassland and open forest, as it would be rather difficult for a giraffe to negotiate a thick forest.

For a range map of the wild giraffe in Africa, indicating the nine subspecies, click here.

Lions are predators of giraffes.  Young giraffes can be preyed upon by leopards, spotted hyenas, wild dogs and crocodiles.  The giraffe’s hooves are its best defense, and if can get in a good kick it can stop a lion.

The patches on a giraffe serve as camouflage. But they also function to release body heat.   No two giraffes share the exact same patch pattern.  However, the giraffes in a particular area, being more closely related, may resemble each other more than those of another area.

In the wild giraffes can live about 25 years, and even longer in captivity.

The Giraffe Conservation Foundation’s most recent estimate, in 2010, was a total population of fewer than 80,000 wild giraffes throughout Africa.  That’s a decrease from 1999, when the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) estimated over  140,000 on the African continent.  However, the populations of southern Africa are doing better than those in the northern zone. 

Many African cultures were quite familiar with the giraffe.  Click here for a picture of rock art portraying a giraffe, by the San culture of southern Africa.  Click here for ancient Egyptian depictions of giraffes.

In 46 B.C., the giraffe made its first appearance in Europe when Julius Caesar brought one to Rome.

Today, zoos perform a valuable function in housing giraffes throughout the world.  It allows breeding stock to be protected in far-flung corners of the world.  And, by allowing inhabitants of various continents to view giraffes, zoos give more of the world’s population an interest and a stake in preserving them. The giraffe is one of the most famous and iconic zoo animals.

The Mexico City zoo, where this giraffe was born on the 19th, is the one in the city’s  Chapultepec Park.  (I invite you to read my article Chapultepec: Mexico City’s Urban Forest, which has some nice photographs taken by my wife and sons.)

The zoo is actually the park’s most-visited attraction, with 5.5 to 8 million visitors annually. 

The zoo has 240 animal species exhibited, and is well-known for its pandas.  (See
The Giant Pandas of Mexico City's Rewarding Chapultepec Park from 2013.) 

Giraffe mothers give birth standing up, and at birth a baby giraffe is usually taller than a human being.  In the wild, giraffe calves have a high mortality rate and half do not survive their first year.  However, the calf in the Chapultepec Zoo seems to be safe and  doing well.

A giraffe gestation period lasts 15 months.  That’s longer than that of a cow (9 months) but less than that of an elephant (24 months).  The calf is weaned at 18 months. 

The residents of Mexico City have been invited to participate in the naming of the young giraffe.  They can log into a website, under the authority of the Mexico City Secretariat of the Environment (Secretaría del Medio Ambiente, known as Sedema).

Voting began on April 20th and closes on April 30th.

Voters are choosing among three names: Alif, Omari, and Jiya.

Which of the three names will the giraffe calf receive?

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Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years.  His website is located at http://www.allanwall.info.

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