PINE MOUNTAIN – There’s a new baby at Wild Animal Safari, which isn’t unusual, but manager Mike Newman can’t help but think Jigsaw is a little special.
The park’s newest giraffe was born Aug. 18.
“Giraffes have a gestational cycle of 13 months, so we don’t get one every year,” Newman said.
Jigsaw, named because his markings looked like puzzle pieces to the park workers, was more than 5 feet tall and 79 pounds when he was born. Right now he’s 7 feet tall and 175 pounds. When he’s full grown, he’ll be about 16 feet and a whopping 2,500 pounds.
Giraffes can live up to 30 years in captivity and Jigsaw’s “mom and dad,” Rose and Too Tall, are longtime park residents. Too Tall is a reticulated giraffe and Rose is a Rothchild breed, so Jigsaw is a mix of both.
Visitors to Wild Animal Safari only have about six more months to come and see Jigsaw though. After that, he’ll be sent to the safari’s sister park near Springfield, Mo., where his brother Sheldon already lives.
Jigsaw spent a docile afternoon exploring his enclosure and experimenting eating leaves from trees – he’s still being bottle fed – but male giraffes tend to fight. The way the safari is set up, grown animals are together in an open field, so Jigsaw and his father Too Tall would more than likely come to blows. The stubs on their heads that look like tiny horns are actually used for fighting, Newman said.
“It looks like they’re laying down, but when he gets older those horns will stand up,” he said.
At the Missouri park, giraffes are separated, so Jigsaw and Sheldon can coexist peacefully.
In the meantime, Jigsaw is still being bottle fed. When he was born, the giraffe had to be fed every two hours. The same week he came into the world, the park also saw the birth of three hyenas, also needing bottle feeding.
“We gave up on sleep that week,” Newman said.
It’s not uncommon for a birth at the park to happen every month, between the variety of animals. Luckily, Jigsaw’s feedings have spread out to every five hours instead of every two hours when he was first born. He takes in about 30 pints of formula a day and they are beginning to introduce carrot peels and other vegetables. Giraffes are vegan.
Giraffes are also big on “power naps,” sleeping for about 20 minutes at a time for a total of two to four hours a day. They are the tallest land animal with the largest eyes and dense bones.
Giraffes actually have notoriously high blood pressure because it takes a lot for the blood to get from their heart to their brain, six feet away.
“Ironically they have the same amount of vertebrae that we humans do,” Newman said.
Jigsaw moved soundlessly through his habitat, experimenting with the trees. Newman said giraffes don’t vocalize like some of the other animals in the park. And, his black tongue serves a purpose. If Jigsaw was at home in Africa with a pink tongue, it would get sunburned.
Jigsaw is one of the most inquisitive and gentle giraffes Newman has ever seen, he said.
And since Rose and Too Tall are only about 10 years old, there could be more giraffes born at the park. Sometimes, other parks have to buy a female, which are about $60,000 to $80,000, or “borrow” one from another zoo for breeding.
“Rose and Too Tall are young and pretty compatible, so we should have giraffes for a while,” Newman said.
For more information on the wild animal park, visit www.animalsafari.com.