This is not the first time Kiko has appeared in one of my calendars; however, it is the first time he’s soloed. At left is the photo from July in my 2016 “Connecting with Animals” calendar. I wrote about Kiko on my other blog at that time so I won’t repeat much of it here. To sum up: the amazing shot was one I took on the second day of Kiko’s outdoor integration with the Zoo’s two female giraffes, after a lengthy quarantine (exacerbated by Kiko being too stubborn to give the required blood sample in a timely manner). I had made friends with a whole raft of people in the States who had followed Kiko’s life story since they watched his birth on live camera in October of 2012, and I had promised to keep them up-to-date with his progress in Toronto. I am still friends with many of them and whenever I grab a shot (or twenty) of Kiko and Mstari (Twiga passed away in 2015 less than two months after this photo was taken), I make sure to pass them along so the fans can see how they’re doing.
From the very beginning, Kiko hit it off with Mstari (and Twiga) which is terrific news, because their genes are very important to the North American breeding program (known as the SSP: Species Survival Plan). Any offspring they produce will be very important to the future success of the Masai species in AZA-accredited Zoos. They have recently shown quite a bit of interest in each other (although, to be fair, I have seen Mstari take the lead much of the time!) and I believe there have been a few breeding attempts, but none successful as yet…as far as has been reported. Mstari is still only four years old (Kiko is five) and is just at the beginning of her potential breeding years, so they have some time to figure it all out. Once they do, there will be plenty of time to prepare for the new arrival: the gestation period for giraffes is between 400-460 days (or 13-15 months) with first-timers tending to be at the long end of that range. And when that baby does arrive, it makes quite an entrance into the world:
Yup: a six-foot drop to the ground is a pretty rude awakening, I would imagine! By the way, that video is of the very same Kiko making his “debut” at the Greenville Zoo in South Carolina!
Kiko’s family has had some tragedy over the years, unfortunately. The second baby born to his parents, Walter and Autumn, was a stillborn male in 2014. The Zoo named him “Roho” or “spirit” in Swahili. (“Kiko”, by the way, means “Autumn’s child.”) Two years later Autumn had a third calf, this one hale and healthy, whom they named “Tatu” or “third”, which is a pretty cool idea, I think. I visited Kiko the next day and told him all about his new baby brother; astonishingly he came right over to me when I called his name and stood there listening for the entire time I told him the news. I took some great shots that day and shared them in kind of a “photobook” story with the folks from Greenville, which I think they were pretty pleased with. Not long after Tatu was born, Walter was transferred to the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, NJ, where they called him “Hodari.” He didn’t live there long, however, passing away in May of last year from complications during a medical procedure. In the meantime, another male, Miles, came to Greenville from Houston in 2016 to breed with Autumn, and they had a daughter on January 31 of this year, who has been named “Kiden”, meaning “female born after three males.” That’s… kind of specific for a name, but it’s not wrong!
It has taken a while for the two young giraffes to finally settle in through all the changes in their exhibits the past few years. The old elephant exhibit was converted for the giraffes and Mstari and her mom moved there when she was still quite young. Then Kiko arrived, which was another big change. Not long after the three merged together, Twiga died suddenly (but not unexpectedly: she was 25 years old) and that was yet another shock to the young pair. So it’s quite understandable that they were hesitant to do new things, such as visit the secondary, lower field in the outdoor exhibit, or get close to visitors to the beautifully renovated giraffe house in the winter months. But as time went by and they matured together, a lot of the skittishness passed. It’s now at the point where, when I enter the Giraffe House on a quiet day of few visitors, I am actually disappointed if one or the other isn’t standing right at the wire fence, neck outstretched to peer at me as I enter through the two sets of doors. It’s more often Mstari, but not always. And when she’s first, Kiko is never far behind. The shot I used this month happened quite by accident: I had been standing there talking to Mstari who had leaned in really close on the off-chance I happened to be holding something yummy, when I suddenly had this overpowering feeling of another set of eyes upon me. I looked up to find Kiko just off to my right, neck similarly craned, gazing at me over a “log” in the front display. I managed to hold it together long enough to grab the picture, but it was tough – I found the whole thing hilarious.
There are myriad more things I can tell you here about giraffes in general – and Masai giraffes in particular – but it’s a pretty safe bet that this will not be the last time you see a photo of Kiko or Mstari (or, hopefully, their offspring) in one of my calendars. I need to keep something for next time, so I’ll leave a lot of the technical details for then. In the meantime, here is a shot of Kiko checking Mstari’s “readiness”; I shot this photo two summers ago, before Mstari had even reached maturity yet, so you can rest assured that when the time is right, they will be doing everything they can to increase the population giraffes at the Toronto Zoo by one…or even two. Hey, it’s not unheard of. There’s another expectant mother not far from the giraffes right now who looks big enough to easily be carrying twins…but that’s a story for another day.
Next month: oh boy! The story of one of my favourite daddies at the Zoo – and the timing will likely be perfect for some brand-new photos of his offspring. Please come on back and check that one out. And, as always, thanks for reading!