Equine therapeutic shoeing technique helps baby giraffe

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Zoo staff apply the custom-made shoe to the newborn giraffe. © Woodland Park Zoo

A corrective shoeing technique most commonly used on horses has been adapted to help a newborn baby giraffe with hyperextended fetlocks.

Born on May 2 at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington in the US, the youngster was on his feet and walking within an hour. But staff noticed that his rear feet were not in normal alignment, and a radiograph was performed.

As yet unnamed, the giraffe calf born on May 2 is otherwise healthy.
As yet unnamed, the giraffe calf born on May 2 is otherwise healthy. © Woodland Park Zoo

“The condition is known as hyperextended fetlocks. It is well documented in horses and has been reported to occur in giraffes,” said Dr Tim Storms, associate veterinarian at Woodland Park Zoo.

At just a day old, the zoo’s animal health team applied casts on both rear legs to help stabilize his limbs, and a pair of shoes were crafted by the zoo’s in-house exhibits team from high-density polyethylene and plywood.

Dr Tim Storms finishes casting the second rear leg of the giraffe calf.
Dr Tim Storms finishes casting the second rear leg of the giraffe calf. © Woodland Park Zoo

“At this stage, the new therapeutic shoes are on a trial basis but I’m hopeful that they will help him walk better. We’ll continue refining and improving our approach to find a good balance between supporting his limbs and strengthening his tendons,” Storms said. “It’s been all hands on deck for our baby.”

Storm said the youngster was health and nursing but remains in guarded condition and under close observation.

“As we move forward with his treatment, we’ll continue assessing the best course of action to help him walk and grow normally.”

The animal health team carefully casts the newborn's rear legs, led by Dr Tim Storms, at right.
The animal health team carefully casts the newborn’s rear legs, led by Dr Tim Storms, at right. © Woodland Park Zoo

The yet-unnamed baby giraffe was born to Olivia and Dave. It is the first offspring between the 12-year-old mom and 6-year-old dad; Olivia had her first baby in 2013 at Woodland Park Zoo with a different mate.

Martin Ramirez, mammal curator at Woodland Park Zoo, said: “As soon as he was born, our animal care and health staff connected with this baby giraffe as we do with all of our animals. He’s a symbol of hope for the future of his species and already lives in our hearts. We’re rallying for this new animal to thrive and we’re very grateful to our community and fans who have already shown an outpouring of love for our baby giraffe.”

In the following days, the zoo will launch a community naming contest and a live barn cam.

Giraffes are widespread across southern and eastern Africa, with smaller isolated populations in west and central Africa. New population surveys estimate an overall 40 percent decline in the giraffe population; fewer than 100,000 exist today. Of the currently recognized subspecies of giraffe, five have decreasing populations, while three are increasing and one is stable.

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