Ask the Expert: How do you take care of baby animals?
Question: How do you help take care of the baby animals? - Madison Wilson, 7
Answer: Keeper Claire Winkler has seen her share of adorable Zoo babies; she’s helped care for four giraffe calves, including Zawadi last year, five rhino calves, including Lulu and the latest calf born in August, and other species! It turns out that in some ways caring for baby animals takes less time than caring for their parents, at least in the beginning.
“The first few weeks we are very hands off, allowing the mom and baby to bond and making sure the mom is caring for that animal,” said Winkler. The animal care team is constantly watching the little one, for sure, but seldom intervening in most cases. The goal is to have the animal raise its own offspring without human help. Signs of a healthy bond including making sure the baby nurses often and without intervention from staff, and behavior from the mom that is protective but also caring.
The first interaction between staff and baby animals comes during a neonatal exam by the veterinarians, which includes a blood draw, some shots, a lot of visual checks to the animal’s body and a weigh-in. This typically happens a day or two after birth, but every species can be different. After that, the veterinarians and keepers are constantly doing visual checks to make sure the baby is developing, eating and hitting other major milestones.
“It’s crazy cute to work with the babies and exciting to see the milestones you get to experience with them − first starting to eat grain, first time they are interested in us, watching them explore their habitat,” Winkler said. “It never gets old.”
Winkler works with giraffe each day, and watching Jhasmin rear Zawadi has been a treat the past year. “Jhasmin can be very protective when she needs to be - even flaring her nostrils or hiding the fact that she’s nursing if there are unknown humans around. But most days she’s a very natural and laid back mom.” Zawadi is still the smallest in the herd and you can see him sticking with Jhasmin in the yard.