I’ve got a thing for giraffes.
So on May 17, when a local TV news story mentioned “a giraffe,” I paid attention.
Because…I’ve got a thing for giraffes.
They’re so highly improbable, yet so amazingly graceful:
And while I make no pretense to expertise, it does seem to me that…
A giraffe’s legs are its life.
From the moment it’s born.
After a six-foot fall to the ground from its mother…
That giraffe calf has one job to do, and do quickly:
Stand up and learn to use its legs.
The calf must stand while it’s nursing:
The calf must walk to stay with the herd:
And keep up when the herd is running:
The calf will learn to kick to defend itself:
And while a giraffe in a zoo won’t need to defend itself against a lion, its legs are still its life.
So on February 1, when a female giraffe was born at San Diego Zoo Safari Park with abnormalities – a front limb bending the wrong way – that threatened the calf’s survival, the team knew they had to act to save her life, according to this news release from the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance:
The calf – named Msituni (pronounced see tune neee), which means “in the forest” in Swahili:
“…had a hyperextension of the carpi, bones that are equivalent to those in the human wrist. This disorder had caused the giraffe’s front leg to bend improperly, and made it difficult for her to stand and walk.”
As Msituni overcompensated, the second front limb started to hyperextend as well. (Her back leg joints also were weak but were corrected with specialized hoof extenders.)
Matt Kinney, senior veterinarian at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, said in this article:
“Initially we stabilized that joint with casts while we had some time to purchase some braces, just off-the-shelf braces. Applied those the next day and realized those weren’t quite strong enough and needed to take it a step up.”
Next, says this article:
“Msituni wore medical-grade braces for humans that were modified for her long legs. But eventually Msituni broke one.”
That’s when the team reached out to experts in orthotics at the San Diego-based Hanger Clinic, including Ara Mirzaian. Over the past three decades Mirzaian has fitted braces for everyone from Paralympians to children with scoliosis.
This time his patient was an animal.
An animal that was a 100-pound-plus infant that stood 5-foot-10-inches tall at birth, and was growing taller every day.
Following initial device fittings, the team quickly fabricated the custom-molded carbon graphite orthotic braces by using cast moldings of the calf’s legs and fit Msituni with her new devices:
After 10 days…
…the problem was corrected.
Msituni was in braces for 39 days from the day she was born, and then:
“Reunite with the giraffe tower” – a herd of giraffes is also called a “tower”?
And when giraffes intertwine their necks:
They’re called a “kaleidoscope.”
Yeah, I’ve got a thing for giraffes.
Msituni stayed in the animal hospital the entire 39 days.
After that, she was slowly introduced to her mom and others in the herd. Her mom never took her back, but another female giraffe has adopted her, and she now runs around like the other giraffes:
Though it will be a while before she’ll reach her top short-distance speed of 37 mph, which is faster than some horses and all humans.
So, a baby giraffe that, if born in the wild and couldn’t nurse or walk or run, eventually would have been left behind by the herd, to die of starvation or predators.
Instead, Msituni now has a great chance of surviving – and thriving.
That feels good.
I feel good.
Msituni feels good: