March 4, 2017

Giraffe Labor : Signs of Labor, Delivery and After

So in my search for information about giraffe labor I came across this PDF which I believe is written by a veterinarian. I will post it in its entirety. I did not write this or take credit I am merely sharing. I will warn you it includes a lot of medical terminology and is quite graphic.

Perinatal maternal and neonatal behaviour in

the captive reticulated giraffe
M.B. Kristal and M. Noonan
A captive reticulated giraffe was observed constantly for
three weeks prior to, and periodically for 90 days
subsequent to, the birth of her calf. Extensive
observations were made of the birth sequence, feeding,
drinking, sleeping and one instance of an infant distress
call, as well as observations of the initiation of maternal
behaviour (including licking, nursing, placentophagia,
and what appeared to be helping the calf to stand,
guiding the calf's movements, and attempts to respond to
the calf's distress call).
s. Afr. J. Zool. 14: 103-107 (1979)
'n Kameelperdkoei in gevangeskap is onafgebroke vir
drie weke voor en periodiek vir 90 dae na die geboorte
van haar kalf dopgehou. Noukeurige waarnernings is
gedoen van die geboorteproses, die voeding, soog, slaap
en, op een geleentheid, van die noodroep van die kalf.
Verdere waarnemings is ook gedoen ten opsigte van die
aanvang van moedergedrag insluitend die lek en oppas
van die kalf, verwydering van die plasente, optrede wat
voorgekom het as hulp aan die kalf om te staan, stuur
van die kalf in sy bewegings en reaksie op die noodroep
van die kalf.
S.-Afr. Tydskr. Dierk. 14: 103-107 (1979)
M.B. Kristal and M. Noonan
Department of Psychology, State University of New York at Buffalo,
4230 Ridge Lea Road, Buffalo, New York 14226, USA
Accepted I November 1978
At 16h to (EDT on 7 August, at the Buffalo Zoological
Gardens Buffalo, New York), a reticulated giraffe, Gira.ffa
eamelopardalis retieulala, gave birth to a female calf that
was approximately 162 cm tall and weighed between 34
and 45 kg. The mother had been the subject of an around-
the-clock observation for 21 days prior to delivery. In
addition to almost constant visual observation, seven
hours of videotape recordings were made during that
period, on her behaviour and external physical
The mother, a 4,5 m tall, nine year-old multipara, and
her only surviving offspring, a three year-old nullipara,
occupied adjacent stalls in the Buffalo Zoo's giraffe house
(the male having died two or three months after
copulation). Both giraffes were let into a yard in fine
weather for about six to seven hours per day, but during
the last three weeks of pregnancy, access to the yard was
restricted to two to three hours per day. Food (alfalfa and
grain) was provided only indoors. The giraffe house was
closed to the public during the last three weeks of
pregnancy, to facilitate observation and to avoid undue
disturbances, such as those that had seemed to result in the
death by abandonment of the mother's previous calf.
External physical characteristics
The mother's abdomen was extremely large (about 30%
wider than the pelvis) at -21 days (Day 0 = day of delivery),
although symmetrical. The weight of the foetus was
sufficient to cause the spine to sag, producing a
pronounced dorsal pelvic ridge. The size and shape of the
abdomen was not constant over the last three weeks, and
changed, not in a constantly increasing fashion, but
unpredictably as the foetus apparently changed position.
On Day -20, we noted that the bulge of the giraffe's
abdomen appeared larger on her left side, but on Days -18
through -1, the bulge appeared greater on the right side.
The depth of the abdomen (dorso-ventral plane) also
changed over the last three weeks: the lateral dimension of
the abdomen increased noticeably beginning on Day -14,
this increase persisting until Day -12, when the abdomen
appeared more pronounced in the dorso-ventral
dimension. On Day -8, the dimensions of the abdomen 104
changed again, so as to increase the laterality and decrease
the ventrality of the bulge. In general, the size of the
abdomen appeared to have decreased around Day -14, but
that was probably due to the change in the position of the
foetus. We began to observe trains of what appeared to be
foetal kicks on Day -19, consisting of sharp, outward-
directed thrusts against the side of the mother's abdomen,
accompanied by contraction ofthe abdominal muscles and
a slight rotation of the pelvis resulting in an immediate
subtle, downward deflection of the caudal edge of the
pelvis. Trains of kicks, consisting of from one to eight
kicks, and lasting for perhaps 15 minutes were observed
only once or twice a day until Day 0, and on some days not
at all. The kicks came most often between 00h30 and
03h30, but kick sequences were observed at all times of
day. On Day 0, long trains of kicks were observed almost
hourly from 01 hOO to 04hOO.
From the beginning of our observation period, the
mother's vulva was considerably more swollen and puffy
than that of her nulliparous daughter. A slight mucous
discharge occurred on the morning of Day -21, but no
additional discharges were seen until the morning of Day
O. The vulva appeared less swollen on Day-19, on Days-14 .
through -12, and on Days -6 through -3. During those
periods when the vulva was reduced in size, it appeared less
turgid and somewhat wrinkled. When maximally swollen,
the labia appeared slightly peeled back away from the
midline, exposing a little of the pink inner surface. of the
The udder and teats were less prominent than expected,
and were only a little larger, relatively, than those'of the
nulliparous daughter. No change in their appearance was
observed over the last three weeks of pregnancy.
Behaviou ral observations
The only relatively consistent changes in behaviour that we
observed as parturition approached were those related to
feeding and drinking. Each day the mother's food hopper
was filled at approximately 15hOO. During the first week of
observation she would generally finish the previous day's
bale of alfalfa at about 03hOO - 04hOO. Her appetite seemed
somewhat depressed from the evening of Day -14 until the
afternoon of Day -8, at which time she began to consume
her alfalfa at a faster rate than she did during the first week
of observation. On Days -7, -6, and -5, she finished her
previous day's food at around 0 IhOO; on Days -4 through
-I, the day's food was finished by 22h30. On Day 0,
however, she had not finished the food presented on Day
-I, by the time ofdelivery, although she was observed to eat
throughout Day O. Davis (1949) also observed that less
food was consumed on the day of delivery.
Drinking was only observed about once a day prior to
Day O. and consisted of a two to three minute drink that
usually occurred at around 02hOO, or around 19hOO. In
contrast, on Day 0 the mother was observed to take four
long drinks (three to four minutes) between 01h30 and
03h30, and another at 11 h30. Robinson, Gribble, Page and
Jones (1965) also reported elevated drinking on Day O.
Sleeping, resting, cud-chewing, and grooming
behaviours appeared normal, and did not change either
quantitatively or qualitatively during the three weeks of
observation. It should be noted, however, that from the
evening of Day +1 until delivery, the mother only rested in
S.-Afr. Tydskr. Dierk. 14, nr. 2 (1979)
lying-down position for about one hour, beginning at
about 04hOO on Day 0; this was in contrast to the four to
five hours per night that both giraffes were observed to
remain down (Kristal & Noonan, 1979).
One behaviour seen occasionally during the three weeks
was one we came to call "bearing-down." The first observa-
tion of bearing-down was made on Day -19. It occurred
once at 02hOO and once at 19h30. We observed bearing-
down again on Day -17, Day -13, Day -10, Day -8, Da~-4,
and then several times during delivery. The behaVIOur
consisted of a rigid stance with the neck held at about
45° above horizontal with the head pointing forward, the
rear legs slightly spread but without a crouch, tail up, and
a slight lordosis of the spine. The abdominal muscles
appeared to contract and cud was not chewed .durin.g the
pose nor were faeces or urine expelled. The entire epIsode
lasted, on the average, for about 15 seconds.
Observations during parturition
The evening of Day -I, was uneventful; no changes in the
giraffe's appearance or behaviour were observed.
However, at about 00h30 on Day 0, the mother began to
receive long trains offoetal kicks, as mentioned above. The
period from 0 IhOO to 03hOO was also marked by frequent
drinking, but feeding was not above normal. The labia
appeared large and swollen, but flaccid, and from OlhOO
on, flopped 'open when s1)e walked. When the labia
opened, they simply split at the midline as would a
longitudinally split hollow sphere that is compressed at the
poles. During this early period, when the labia did open,
we were able to see into the vagina for a distance of about
3-5 cm. A mucous vaginal discharge began at about 03hOO
and continued, increasing in quantity and decreasing in
viscosity, until delivery. She did not urinate from 02hOO
until delivery; defaecation occurred with normal frequency
throughout Day O.
For clarity, the events during delivery are presented in
time-check fashion:
15h15 - Mother is pacing. A strand of mucous
hangs from the labia, which are now
open to a width of about 2 cm (and as
much as 5 cm when she walked). The tip
of the amnion, about 10 cm inside the
vagina, is visible.
15h25 - Mother continues to pace. The amnion
is visible just inside the vagina; it
appears black.
15h27 - Mother continues to pace, and
defaecates with tail out straight.
Continues holding tail out after
defaecation. The sac begins to emerge; it
now appears opalescent.
15h28 - Mother stops pacing only long enough
to turn and lick the sac. The tips of the
infant's hooves are now visible.
15h29 - Front hooves entirely visible in the sac.
Mother licks sac again.
15h30-15h39 Mother continues to pace, foetus
continues to emerge. During this
period, mother licks the sac four or five
times. Almost colourless fluid courses
down the outside of the sac. About s. Afr. 105 J. Zool. 14, no. 2 (1979)
30-40 cm of the calfs forelegs have now
emerged. About a litre of fluid is visible
in the bottom of the sac.
15h41 - Mother bears down.
15h42 - Licks sac (usually turned to the right to
do so, but not every time).
15h45 - Mother is standing with hind legs apart.
Calfs nose begins to emerge. Bottom of
sac hangs about 50 cm below labia.
15h48 - Mother defaecates. Calfs snout clearly
visible, fluid coming from nostrils.
Calfs head is on the left side of its legs,
rather than on top of them (i.e., calfs
head is on right side of mother's vagina).
Mother licks sac.
15h48-15h59 - Pacing continued. Mother bears down
and defaecates, showing deep breathing
and rythmic abdominal he.aving. She is
holding her head lower than usual
during bearing-down.
16hOO-16h04 - The calfs head emerges fully; mother
bears down hard. As soon as the head is
completely out, the mouth begins to
open. During this gaping, clear fluid
runs out of the calfs mouth. Mother
paces when not bearing-down.
16h05 - Sac ruptures. Mother turns and sniffs
the fluid that fell to the floo.r.
16h07 - More foetal mouth movement. Mother
bears down, the calf is pushed out
another 30 cm, but slips back 4 or 5. The
neck of the calf is clearly visible.
16h08 - Mother increases the rate of pacing. The
emerging calf begins to sway to and fro
as a result of the increased pacing. The
calfs shoulders clear the vagina.
16h09 - Mother bears down then resumes rapid
pacing. The calfs front hooves are
about 15 cm from the floor. Calf
emerges now at a rate of about 4 or 5 cm
per second. Calf is still swaying behind
16hl0 - While mother is pacing rapidly, calf
falls to the floor. Right side of the neck
and shoulder contact the floor first.
Allantoic sac ruptures and bloody fluid
is evacuated pouring onto the floor near
the calf (not directly on the calf as
reported by Davis, 1949). Mother turns
to the right and directs her attention to
her calf.
16hll - Mother steps to calf and begins licking
her. She continues to evacuate bloody
fluid. Calf begins to try to raise her
The pacing which this female performed almost
continuously throughout the delivery is apparently typical
of giraffe births (Davis, 1949, van Aarde, 1976) but does
not always occur (Lightfoot, 1975).
Observations after partu rition
From the moment of delivery until the calf was able to
remain in a standing position (16h54) the mother
constantly attended to the calf except for four or five
minutes she spent drinking. From 16h54 to 18h30, the
mother drank periodically for a total of about 20 minutes,
which contrasted sharply with the four to six minutes per
day typically observed. She continued to evacuate large
amounts of bloody fluid from her vagina for about two
hours after delivery.
For the first 10-15 minutes after delivery, the mother
alternated between licking the calf and pulling the
amnionic membranes from the calf and eating them. By
16h 15 the calfs head and neck were raised from the
ground. Whenever the mother licked the calfs head or
neck, the calf seemed to push back reflexively against the
mother's tongue or face. Later, this reflexive pushing, on
the part of the calf, was directed against any part of the
mother's body (usually the legs).
When the mother repositioned her feet near the
preambulatory calf, she carefully placed her hooves very
close to the calf, and often exerted only enough downward
pressure to determine whether any part of the calf was
underneath her hoof. Ifso, she raised and lowered the hoof
while moving it back gradually, until the calf was no longer
underneath. Twice, the mother placed herself over the calf
in such 'a way that her udder was immediately above the
calfs upturned face, but even when the calf was able to
hold her entire neck erect, she was not able to reach the
udder without standing.
The calf attempted to stand about 10 or 15 times
between 16h25 and 16h54, but kept falling. She was
frequently observed to lean against the mother's legs or
neck, or to push with her hooves against the mother's
hooves. She eventually rose successfully by employing the
latter strategy. This same strategy was observed after birth
in the wild (van Aarde, 1976). The mother almost
constantly licked the calf during the calfs attempts at
standing. Occasionally, the mother appeare.d to help the
calf in her attempts to rise by positioning the rising calf
between her foreleg and her head or neck while she was
licking the calf.
The latency-to-stand for our calf was similar to latencies
reported for other zoo (Davis, 1949; Innes, 1958) and wild
(van Aarde, 1976) giraffe births, although shorter (Moss
1975) and longer (Lightfoot 1975) latencies have been
indicated (for review see Dagg & Foster 1976). We feel that
our calf would have stood alone much sooner if the straw-
covered concrete floor of the pen had not become very
slippery from the large amount of fluid evacuated by the
Although the calf began searching for the teats before
she successfully stood up, she did not find them for about
10 minutes after standing. She explored the mother's
brisket and flank, and was even pushed, by the mother's
head movements, at one point, toward the udder. The calf
began butting and nursing unsuccessfully at about 17h 10,
and continued to do so periodically until 17h35, at which
time her sucking sounds and swallowing indicated to us
that she was having success. There was no teat preference;
the calf alternated teats apparently randomly.
The afterbirth was gradually extruded over a period of
190 minutes, and was long enough to dangle to the floor
before it was finally delivered. It was opalescent with 12-14
distinguishable placental cotyledons, each about 5-7 cm
diameter and containing hues of purple, brown, blue and
red. It dropped to the floor at l8h26, and at l8h27 the
mother took a bite of it. She spent one or two minutes
chewing, and then drank some water. This sequence was
repeated four or five times over the next 20 minutes with
intermittent episodes of alfalfa-eating. She consumed only
about one-third of the afterbirth. At l8h57, she picked up
the entire placenta, which had been in the centre ofthe pen,
and turned so that her head was over a corner of the pen.
The placenta dropped (except for a small portion that
remained in her mouth) into the deep straw in the corner,
and was not attended to again. Incomplete or even absent
placentophagia may not be unusual for giraffes (Dagg &
Foster 1976; Lightfoot 1975), although the extent to which
captivity affects this behaviour is unclear.
The most striking maternal behaviour that the mother
manifested for the first two hours after the calf began to
ambulate was herding, the stimulation and guidance ofthe
calfs movements. When the calf was not nursing, the
mother frequently kept the calfin front of her, and with her
knees bumped and directed the calf. Lightfoot (1975)
reporting on a birth in the wild, mentioned similar nudges
of the calf by the mother.
On two occasions, at 18h47 and at 19h46, the calf
approached the water trough while the mother was
drinking. Both times, the mother stopped drinking and
gently bumped the calf away from the trough. This is
interesting since Langman (1977) reported that 'infant
giraffes in the wild are not brought to water holes when
their mothers go for drinks.
When the calfs attempts to stand up caused her to move
across the pen to a location in which she was visible to the
older daughter in the adjacent pen, the young adult began
showing signs of agitation. Initially she would only stand
on the furthest side of her pen, and continually readjusted
her position so that she stood broadside to the calf; her tail
was curled up and over her back, and slightly to the side
facing the calf. Her head and ears were erect and directed
steadily at the calf. The absence of nasal hissing and the
broadside stance made it clear that this was not typical
"approach-investigation" (Langman 1977). The young
adult female approached the partition between the pens at
l7h35 (almost 1.5 h after delivery), but she still kept her tail
curled. At 19hOO the young adult and the calf nuzzled and
licked each other's face through the bars separating the
pens. Dagg (1970) and Moss (1975) described similar nose-
to-nose greetings among young giraffes in calving pools.
The mother showed no particular reaction; this is
noteworthy, since Langman (1977) stated that the mother
keeps her calf away from other giraffes during the first one
to three weeks postpartum, and Dagg & Foster (1976) and
Moss (1975) both reporting the observations of Mejia,
stated that mothers in the wild drive away other giraffes if
they approach the newborn.
Although the mother apparently did not respond to the
approach of her three year old daughter, we did observe
two behaviours on Day 0 which may have been protective
in nature. (a) The mother herded her calf away whenever
she came close to our observation post just outside the
front of the pen. (b) When we attempted to manoeuvre
closer to the calf for a better look, the mother placed
herself between us and the calf.
S.-Afr. Tydskr. Dierk. 14, nr. 2 (1979)
At about 19hOO (about three hours after birth) the calf
first attempted to gambol: she took a step with both front
legs together, rocked forward, lifted both hind legs and
brought them forward of the front legs, placed her weight
on the hind legs and stepped out. She did not become
proficient at this until the third or fourth try.
At 20h24 the calf fell down again, and rather than rising,
fell asleep in the deep-sleep posture, with her head resting
on her hip (Kristal & Noonan 1979).
From Day +2 to about Day +90, observations of the
mother and calf were made only every two or three days by
one of our students, Harriet Warne. The development of
the infant proceeded apparently normally. Herding of the
calf by the mother was not observed at all after Day 0,
although following of the mother by the calf increased in
frequency over the first few days. Nursing was only rarely
observed after Day +25; only three of 12 observed
attempts to nurse, after this time, were successful. When
the calf approached the udder, the mother, more
frequently than not, stepped away. This weaning age is
comparable to those observed elsewhere (Foster & Dagg
1972), although Langman (1977) and Dagg & Foster
(1976) indicated that nursing sometimes continues for
months after birth.
Although the calf approached the water trough several
times in the first several days, she did little more than touch
her muzzle to the surface of the water. However, by Day
+25, she had learned to drink water directly from the spout
that filled the trough. By Day +35, the calf had acquired a
drinking pattern identical to that of the adults: she now
sipped water from the trough, keeping her head down for
the duration of the drinking episode.
Between Days +21 and +35, the calf began eating
alfalfa, and by Day +60, her feeding pattern was identical
to that of the adults. Jaw movements similar to those of
cud-chewing were observed as early as Day +21, but true
rumination as indicated by apparent food boli moving
upward in the oesophagus, was not verifiable by Day +60.
Langman (1977) suggested that rumination begins at the
age of 4-6 months.
What appeared to be a vocal distress call by the calf was
observed on Day +90. The calf and the mother were
separated briefly so that the former might receive a
veterinary examination. The mother was let into the yard
and the door was closed immediately behind her, trapping
the calf inside the building. As the calf was captured, she
began bleating and bellowing loudly. This was the only
vocalisation that we heard from the giraffes, and it appears
to correspond to the distress call of young giraffes as
reported by Kettlitz (1961). As soon as the calf began to
vocalise, the mother began bucking with her hind legs and
k.icking at the door with her forelegs, although she, herself,
did not vocalise. She continued to buck and kick for five
minutes, after which she only paced in front of the door in
an agitated, alert manner.
When mother and calf were reunited, after a period of
separation of about 20 minutes, the mother immediately
began to nuzzle and lick the calf, who stood in the center of
the pen. The mother then circled the pen several times,
facing outward, before she relaxed and resumed feeding. S. Afr. J. Zool. 14, no. 2 (1979) 107
Our prepartum observations indicated that there are few, if
any, behavioural or physical changes during the last three
weeks of pregnancy that can be used to predict the day of
delivery. It may be that the change we observed in feeding
(i.e., decreased feeding for a week followed by increased
feeding for a week, followed by parturition), or the
decrease in total sleep the night preceding birth may prove
to be reliable predictors, but more observations are
necessary. The changes that occurred in the 15 hours prior
to the onset of labour are significant (drinking, foetal
kicks, bearing down and pacing), and certainly seem to be
good indices of impending delivery.
The delivery events were very similar to those described
previously (Davis 1949; Robinson et al. 1965; Lightfoot
1975; van Aarde 1976; for review see Dagg & Foster 1976),
although our observations have provided more detailed
information on placentophagia, periparturient drinking,
and immediately-postpartum maternal-infant behavioural
There is an apparent controversy regarding the intensity
of the mother-infant bond in giraffes; whereas earlier
reports suggested a weak bond (e.g. Innes, 1958) more
recent, more detailed analyses (Langman, 1977) have
begun to reveal a stronger and more complex mother-
infant interaction. The mother we observed aided her calf
in standing, oriented toward her, and stimulated and
guided the movements of the calf. Also, although weaning
took place about three to four weeks after birth, months
later the mother responded with attempts to reach her
young when it cried out. Our observations indicate that the
mother-offspring relationship is extensive and intense.
We would like to thank the Buffalo Zoological Society
and the staff and administration of the Buffalo Zoo for
their cooperation and help in the execution of this project.
We would also like to extend special thanks to C.J.
Orsolits and M. L. Luehrsen of the SUNY-Buffalo
Department of Psychology, for their help in the comple-
tion of this manuscript.
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