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Snow brought zoo more than flakes

Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Gardens' three week old giraffe is snuzzled by his mother Ginger.
Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Gardens' three week old giraffe is snuzzled by his mother Ginger.

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The Riverbanks Zoo giraffe factory keeps popping 'em out.

A male born during the Feb. 12-13 snowstorm is the third baby giraffe for the zoo in the past year and brings Riverbanks' giraffe population to seven. The little guy, whose name will be decided in an online auction, is allowed out into the public exhibit on days when temperatures near 60 degrees.

"Back in 2005 when we got Sharon and Charlie, this was our vision," said John Davis, Riverbanks' curator of mammals. "We wanted to have a nice big herd. We've got a spacious exhibit, and we've got plenty of stalls. It's really a very appealing exhibit now with giraffes of different sizes."

None of them is tiny - the baby is 6 feet tall and 143 pounds, up about 35 pounds since birth. But the newcomer looks small next to his 10-foot brother Lewis, born last February, and 9-foot sister Vivian, born in August. And those three look small next to the adults, who top out at 14 feet.

The three youngsters are half-siblings. Charlie is the father to all three, but they have different mothers - Sharon for Lewis, Krissy for Vivian and Ginger for the new boy. Because giraffes have a 14-month gestation period, there was at least one pregnant female in the giraffe barn for 26 months.

This is the 18th giraffe birth at Riverbanks since it opened in 1974, but there were none between 2000 and 2009. A young Charlie was brought to Riverbanks in 2005 from a Kansas zoo in hopes he would be a good father as he grew up.

Charlie has done his job well, and the population explosion might not be over. The zoo has no plans to introduce giraffe contraceptives, Davis said.

Keepers weren't sure when Ginger was impregnated and began preparing for the birth months ago. Some canceled Christmas trips to stay nearby. As the pregnancy lingered, they joked that Ginger would wait until the absolute worst time to have her baby.

Apparently, she was waiting for snow. While the eight inches of snow on Feb. 12 forced the zoo to close to the public, Davis and the giraffe keepers had to rush in early that morning. The birth went smoothly, and the baby quickly began nursing on his mother.

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