They may be tall but Viv, Kay, and Wednesday are the littles of the giraffe herd. Their zoomies, curiosity and bold personalities breathe energy into the herd. Viv, Kay and Wednesday are besties and munch, nap, play and even train together. Each giraffe is at a slightly different level of hoof care training and blood draw training but they are all learning how to voluntarily participate in their own healthcare.
– IN PARTNERSHIP WITH CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL COLORADO –
Step up to the hoof block with Wednesday, our 10-month-old reticulated giraffe. As students around Colorado head back to school from summer break, our partners at Children’s Hospital Colorado have provided some excellent tips for helping kids settle into the routine.
At CMZoo, keeper teams help animals succeed as students, too! 10 months old may seem young to start studying, but Wednesday’s team wasted no time helping her learn foundational husbandry behaviors that will allow her to voluntarily participate in her own healthcare for the rest of her life.
Way to go, Wednesday!
Mahali, a 20-year-old male giraffe at CMZoo, is showing signs of reduced mobility and range of motion. While his care team supports him with pain medications and a sand-mix stall to rest comfortably on each night, veterinary and animal care teams have made the decision to move into a mindset of providing hospice care for him. This is a difficult decision for his team.
“He’s still having more good days than bad days, and although we know how quickly that could change, we’re focused on giving him every possible bonus day he can comfortably have,” said Jason Bredahl, animal care manager in African Rift Valley at CMZoo. “That also means we have decided not to provide extreme medical intervention going forward.”
Mahali has benefitted from his medical team going to great lengths for him in the past. For many years, he voluntarily participated in training for hoof care, blood draws and even applying orthopedic shoes to his hooves. In 2017 and 2020, Mahali went under anesthesia to receive simultaneous multiple treatments for his reoccurring foot and leg issues. Those risky, meticulously planned procedures successfully helped him heal and return to a good quality of life.
“Without his most recent treatment, in 2020, we might not have had these last three years with him,” said Bredahl. ” Mahali is doing well, considering his individual challenges, but we know he won’t be here forever and his time may come sooner than later. Right now, we’re committed to making him comfortable, and providing opportunities to be as active as possible and social with his herd.”
Mahali takes oral anti-inflammation and pain medications – in yummy rye cracker-and-honey ‘sandwiches.’ His team tracks quality-of-life data markers that they discuss regularly to ensure Mahali is still able to do things that fulfill him as a giraffe and as an individual. The team tracks Mahali’s specific activities daily and overnight, so they can adjust medications or activity levels for him as needed.
“We want to see Mahali finding areas to stand and rest more comfortably, interacting with the herd, walking, eating, sleeping, lying down and getting up safely,” said Bredahl. “On days we see he’s a little stiffer, we might encourage him to stay in the barn on a nice soft sand-mix stall, and he may agree that it’s a rest day or he may decide to go outside. He still participates and moves to spaces when we ask him, but he’s still making choices in his care.”
Mahali’s care team says he’s still making them laugh with his antics, too. He may have slowed down as he has aged, but they still see a twinkle in his eye and respect his position in the herd.
“When he was younger, he was a very physical giraffe,” said Brehahl. “He was tactile in those days, and he would push other giraffe out of the way to position himself front-and-center with his care team. He’d pull on our shirts with his lips to get our attention, and to interact with us and get snacks. These days, he seems more content in his own space.”
Mahali’s keepers say he has become more discerning in his golden years, and he only accepts certain food items as training rewards. If they offer lettuce as an incentive, he spits it out with a seemingly intentional aim for the keeper who offered it to him. Then he huffs at them until they reset for a behavior that will earn him his favorite: rye crackers. They have to save the crackers for the big training asks, like curling his hoof on the hoof block so they can visually check his feet, but Mahali doesn’t miss an opportunity to remind them he’d rather not waste his time on lettuce.
“You’ve got to admire the guy – he knows his worth,” said Bredahl. “He’s a big giraffe and a big presence in the herd, and we’re grateful for every day we will have with him.”
Mahali is one of five giraffe in CMZoo’s herd over the age of 20 – four years and more over the median life expectancy. Nearly one-third of the herd is considered aging. Females Muziki (25), Amani (24), Twiga (23) and Lakeisha (23) are the eldest members of the herd, and all receive various levels of care for age-related issues, depending on their individual needs.
The median life expectancy for a giraffe, according to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, is 16 years. Until recent data, which combines the median life expectancy for males and females, the AZA median life expectancy for a male giraffe was 14.7 years.
On Wednesday, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo said goodbye to Msichana [muh-SCHAW-nuh], a nearly 21-year-old female reticulated giraffe. After months of successful treatment for age-related issues, Msichana declined quickly over her last two days, and her care team made the difficult, but compassionate, decision to humanely euthanize her.
Msichana was well-known among CMZoo members and online fans, with her signature tongue-out appearance and her role as a companion to newborn calves and new members of the herd. She was born at CMZoo in 2002, and had one male calf of her own, named Kipawa, in 2013.
Because she was composed and confident, she was the herd’s welcome committee. New herd members would arrive and join her in a quiet part of the barn, and she was usually the first to meet newborn giraffe with their moms.
Being social animals, new giraffe found comfort in Msichana’s presence, and they could learn their way around the barn and yard by following her guidance as they settled in. When newborn calves were ready to start meeting other members of the herd, she was first – and even had sleepovers with moms and calves in the barn’s nursery stall.
“There were a lot of reasons to admire Msichana, but I think we’re most grateful for her contributions to our herd and to our knowledge of giraffe care,” said Savannah Woods, animal keeper in African Rift Valley. “She had a really special calm and nurturing demeanor. For calves and new giraffe, she made their first experience with us a safe one, and their relationships with her gave them the confidence to meet some of the more energetic giraffe in the herd. We could always count on Msichana to act as a ‘nanny,’ showing calves that other giraffe are friends, and helping new moms feel comfortable with their calves meeting other giraffe.”
Msichana’s role as a guide also translated to her relationship with her keepers. Most animals at CMZoo participate in voluntary husbandry training, and Msichana was one of the best. She participated in hoof care, stood for x-rays and allowed her team to take blood draws. She was an excellent learner, but, “Mishy Girl,” as her keepers called her, also taught her care team valuable lessons about training giraffe. Those lessons have shaped their training program and benefitted giraffe around the world, through the Zoo’s International Center for the Care and Conservation of Giraffe workshops and in-person giraffe trainings.
“She was definitely sweet and gentle, but she was also assertive,” said Woods. “I was lucky to have all of my ‘firsts’ as a giraffe trainer with ‘Mishy Girl.’ Because she was so clear about communicating what she needed from us or didn’t want to do, she set the bar for individualizing care for animals. She showed us that we can’t train one giraffe and presume we know how to train all giraffe. They’re individuals, and they need individual training and care programs. We owe a lot of our ability to read animals’ behaviors to what she taught us.”
Msichana was typically eager to train, but Woods also recalls being humbled by Msichana’s clear communication of her priorities.
“One day, a few guests were feeding her lettuce in the barn and after a little while, I asked her to come over to train with me,” said Woods. “She turned her ears back toward me, clearly hearing me calling her, and then turned and looked at me. She was weighing her options. It was an easy decision and she turned right back to the guests and stayed with them. When they left, she came right over to train, but she let me know who was in charge, for sure. I love that she knew she could make that choice, and that she knew she could say ‘no’.”
Because she was a strong and social ambassador with guests, Msichana has helped hundreds of thousands of people make special connections with her species, during her time on the mountain. She taught other giraffe how to do that, too, so her legacy as a teacher in the herd will live on through them and through the guests that come and fall in love with her species.
“I would call it a once-in-a-lifetime relationship, and she was a once-in-a-lifetime giraffe,” said Woods.
The median life expectancy for giraffe in human care, according to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, is nearly 16 years. Msichana would have turned 21 on Sept. 21, 2023.
About Giraffe Conservation
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) categorizes giraffe as vulnerable to extinction, while two northern subspecies are considered critically endangered. Reticulated giraffe (the subspecies found at CMZoo) and Masai giraffe are endangered. According to recent reports, wild giraffe populations have grown 20 percent since 2015, with around 117,000 individual wild giraffe documented. But, there’s still work to be done.
Every visit to CMZoo is conservation in action. 75¢ from every ticket goes to the Zoo’s Quarters for Conservation (Q4C) program, which has raised more than $4.5 million for frontline conservation efforts around the world since 2008, including for giraffe conservation efforts.
Q4C helps support a multi-organizational giraffe conservation project in Uganda, called Operation Twiga. Operation Twiga began in 2016 to give giraffe a better chance of survival by establishing new populations of giraffe in safe habitats, in partnership with Giraffe Conservation Foundation, Uganda Wildlife Authority and others. Operation Twiga V (2020) was a continuation of Operation Twiga IV (2019), which CMZoo staff attended to assist with anesthesia and moving the giraffe from threatened habitats to safer locations. Both giraffe translocations contributed to populations in Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve, an historic habitat in Uganda where giraffe hadn’t existed for more than 20 years. Ongoing Q4C funding supports the teams who continue to monitor and protect these newly established wild populations.
About Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
Cheyenne Mountain Zoological Society was founded in 1926. Today, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, America’s mountain Zoo, offers comprehensive education programs, exciting conservation efforts and truly fantastic animal experiences. In 2023, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo was voted #4 Best Zoo in North America and CMZoo’s Rocky Mountain Wild was named #2 Best Zoo Exhibit in North America by USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards. It is Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s goal to help guests fall in love with animals and nature, and take action to protect them. Since 2008, CMZoo’s Quarters for Conservation program has raised more than $4.5 million dedicated to frontline conservation efforts around the world. Of the 238 zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is one
Kay, a one-year-old female giraffe from Lincoln Children’s Zoo (LCZ), arrived at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo on the evening of Wed., April 19, and she’s settling in well. She has shared space with Msichana and Muziki, and, this week, started introductions with other herd members through a protective barrier, including Ohe and Viv, who were very interested!
Just like people, animals respond to changes in their surroundings and routines, so it’s important to have a plan in place. Long before Kay arrived, her care teams at LCZ and CMZoo started working together to make her transition go as smoothly as possible. Our partners at Children’s Hospital Colorado have advice for parents to teach their kids skills to navigate changes and advocate for their well-beings. At CMZoo, keepers do the same for their animals.
In anticipation of Kay’s arrival, the African Rift Valley team set up clean and comfortable spaces for her routine quarantine period, planned quarantine protocols and necessary sample collections with CMZoo’s veterinary team, chose 20-year-old giraffe, Msichana, as a friend to keep Kay company during quarantine, and worked with LCZ’s giraffe keeper team to learn all about her personality, training and tendencies.
CMZoo has welcomed a lot of giraffe over the years, so keepers know what works best for the entire herd, and they also take an individual giraffe’s needs into perspective once they arrive. What has made this move especially successful for Kay, so far, is the effort both teams put into her care.
“We have been in communication with Kay’s team at LCZ a lot,” said Savannah Woods, African Rift Valley keeper at CMZoo. “We feel really prepared to care for Kay as an individual because of the information they’ve been able to provide, because we have such extensive experience with giraffe, and because they have done such a great job preparing her for the move.”
Kay is the second giraffe ever born at Lincoln Children’s Zoo, and the first to move to another location. Jake Beiermann, primary giraffe keeper at LCZ, has worked with Kay since she was born. He traveled to CMZoo with Kay to help her settle in and to spend a few days with the keeper team at CMZoo.
“We know CMZoo is big on voluntary husbandry training, so we wanted Kay to be prepared with some basic behaviors so she could get going into the routine right away,” said Beiermann. “Before her big road trip, we also exposed her to a lot of new and different situations so she could learn that new things didn’t need to be scary. When she arrived and met a new care team, a new giraffe herd, a new location and whole new routine, she was confident and adaptable. She’s very confident.”
Because Kay needed to be bottle fed as a baby at LCZ, she is extremely outgoing and comfortable with people. She gently and eagerly approaches her new keeper team through a protective barrier and enthusiastically investigates new spaces and enrichment activities at CMZoo.
“I think she’s going to be a fantastic ambassador for her species, and because our Zoo does so much to get guests close to animals, I think she’s going to enjoy that setup,” said Woods. “LCZ has done amazing work with her training. She’s only a year old, and she’s already positioning her foot on the hoof care block, so we’re excited to continue that because husbandry is such a big part of our program at CMZoo.”
Once Kay receives the medical all-clear from the CMZoo veterinary team, she will start to meet other members of the herd. Once she’s comfortable with that, her care team will continue increasing the number of giraffe she’ll share space with, and the spaces she’ll explore. Kay lived with two other calves at LCZ and spent much of her time running and playing with them, so CMZoo’s team has high hopes for her buddying up with six-month-old Wednesday, 4-year-old Viv, 4-year-old Ohe, and 5-year-old Panya.
“I’m excited to see her out with the big herd when the time is right,” said Beiermann. “I couldn’t ask for her to go to a better place than CMZoo. I’ve been lucky enough to get to know the CMZoo crew, and I know she’s in the best hands. Hopefully we’ll get to see her contribute to the Giraffe Species Survival Plan with her own babies someday, and that our efforts to save her as a calf were all leading to good things in the future.”
CMZoo will provide updates on Kay as she continues to settle in at CMZoo.
Welcome, Kay! The newest member of the tower has arrived, and she’s settling in with confidence and curiosity. Kay, a one-year-old female giraffe from Lincoln Children’s Zoo, arrived at CMZoo the evening of Wed., April 19.
Because Kay needed to be bottle fed as a baby, she is extremely outgoing and comfortable with people, which we hope will make her an incredible ambassador for her species. She gently and eagerly approaches her new keeper team through a protective barrier and enthusiastically investigates new spaces and enrichment activities at CMZoo.
Kay’s road trip went well, and she’s adjusting to her new home comfortably. Keepers say Kay stepped off of her trailer and into the barn like she’d done it a hundred times. LCZ’s team did a great job preparing her for this new adventure. A keeper from LCZ traveled with Kay to CMZoo and will stay for a few days to help her new keeper team get to know her.
While she completes a routine quarantine period, guests might see her in a back room of the barn or exploring the north giraffe yard near the meerkats in African Rift Valley. Kay is rooming with Msichana, a 20-year-old female giraffe whose calm and cooperative nature makes her a great first friend for Kay.
She can see, hear and smell most of the rest of the herd through fencing when they’re in the barn, and all involved seem quite interested in meeting. Ohe has been watching her from afar, and Wednesday seemed to stop in her tracks and stare at Kay when she first noticed her. Once Kay clears quarantine, her care team will introduce her to more members of the herd.
Please join us in welcoming Kay to CMZoo! We’ll keep you posted as she continues to settle in.
Our new shipping container farm recently produced its first crop!
The container is equipped with the latest hydroponic vertical growing technology, including blue and red LED grow lights with specialized wavelengths for leafy green production. In this first harvest, the CMZoo horticulture team looked for uniform shape and size in each plant, signs of disease or deficiency, any dead or damaged leaves, and ways to best transplant the next crop.
Through surveying the weight, time, and resources of this first crop, the horticulture team was happy with the success of the beautiful harvest and is already fine-tuning the farm in preparation for the next harvest.
This harvest is the first of many tests of the fully automated computer system that tells the CMZoo horticulture team the recipe of light, water, nutrient and spacing needs for the specific plant species. After a period of testing, the goal is to add more shipping container farms sourcing 50 percent of the lettuce for the giraffe feeding experience. An even longer-term goal is to grow 80 percent of lettuce for Zoo animals in farms like this one.
The next time you visit CMZoo and feed our giraffe herd, you might be feeding them lettuce straight out of our own farm!
In Partnership with Children’s Hospital Colorado
Some cuddle, some snore, some sleep on all fours. No matter how we do it, getting quality sleep is an important part of every healthy routine, whether you’re a human or an animal! Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s partners at Children’s Hospital Colorado recently shared advice for parents considering what kind of sleep is best for their babies. There are lots of options for helping human infants sleep well, just like there are many different ways animals at the Zoo sleep!
Orangutans might be the most particular sleepers at the Zoo. In the wild and in human care, they make new nests to sleep in almost every day. They usually assemble one nest for a midday nap and another more elaborate nest for their longer sleep at night.
To build nests at the Zoo, orangutans gather large amounts of bedding such as grass hay, wood wool, blankets, big paper bags and tree branches into a pile. Then, they sit in the center of the pile and pat, weave, rearrange, sort and layer the materials until their nest is just right. They typically build nests on the ground and on their tree-high platforms to sleep, but also rest in hammocks, big tubs or separate den rooms.
Young orangutans practice building nests for years before they start sleeping in their own nests as adults. Kera, CMZoo’s 4-year-old female Sumatran orangutan who lives and sleeps with her mom, Sumagu, practices nest building many times each day, but still shares mom’s nest to sleep.
“Orangutans learn by observing others, so Kera has watched Sumagu build nests since she was born and makes her own,” said Dina Bredahl, animal behavior assistant and longtime primate keeper at CMZoo. “Kera routinely flings her nesting materials to destroy her nest when she’s finished building so she can start all over again. Practice makes perfect!”
Like many humans aim to do, orangutans sleep for around eight to 10 hours a day. Tujoh, CMZoo’s 28-year-old male Northwest Bornean orangutan, seems to like the soothing sound of running water when he drifts off to sleep.
“We noticed that Tujoh would tinker with his drinking fountain each night until he made it run consistently,” said Bredahl. “So, we installed a small pool that circulates water and gives him the trickling water sounds that he seems to enjoy for a good night’s rest.”
CMZoo’s giraffe don’t need much sleep. They only rest or sleep for two to five hours a day! Most members of the tower only sleep for one-to-three hours at a time. Some giraffe stand up to sleep, others lie down and some do a combination of both.
“The giraffe who lie down will twist themselves up into what looks like a big pretzel, and rest their heads on their hips with their legs either straight out or folded underneath them,” said Savannah Woods, African Rift Valley keeper. “I’ve also seen Mahali lying down to sleep and using Lakeisha’s back to rest his head while she’s standing next to him.”
They often sleep together in groups at night, but some take midday naps, like 4-year-old male Ohe, who can frequently be seen snoozing in the yard for a brief moment of shut-eye.
Big cats, on the other hand, sleep off and on for most of the day. Taking frequent cat naps allows them get plenty of rest while still maintaining awareness of their surroundings. Mountain lions sleep for up to 17 hours per day! They prefer cool, shady spots in the warmer seasons and sunny rocks during the cooler months. CMZoo’s mountain lions, Sitka, Adira and Koda, can often be found enjoying one of their heated rocks in the winter or the covered, cool spots under trees in their habitat in the summer months.
“Mountain lions are typically solitary in the wild, but have also been observed in social groupings,” said Courtney Rogers, senior keeper in Rocky Mountain Wild. “Our three mountain lions have been together from a young age, so they’re comfortable around each other and have become famous for their big cat ‘cuddle puddles,’ where they sleep in a big pile together by the glass guest viewing area.”
Mountain lions aren’t the only animals that sleep next to each other. Omo, CMZoo’s one-year-old Nile hippo, and his mom, Zambezi, often sleep in a big spoon, little spoon position. That’s only when they’re on land, though. CMZoo’s four hippos usually head to their pools around 2 a.m. to sleep the rest of the night away.
“Omo is getting more independent these days, but he used to use Zambezi as a raft when he was smaller,” said Al Carrier, Water’s Edge: Africa senior keeper. “They still rest their heads on each other sometimes. Hippos are really cool because they sleep mostly underwater and their instincts bring their noses to the surface to breathe every 5 minutes or so, without them waking up.”
Each night, CMZoo’s hippos sleep for about 10 hours and nap for around another three hours during the day. Because they’re so large-and-in-charge, hippos are usually deep sleepers. If something wakes them up while they’re underwater, they can communicate through ‘hippo laughs’ that sound like a snort mixed with an old car horn, without surfacing, to let the rest of the pod know there’s a disturbance.
Wolves, known for their pack behaviors, also sleep near each other but rarely cuddle up once they grow out of puppyhood. That’s not an indication of a lack of bonds, though, for CMZoo’s pack of five Mexican wolves, Navarro, Shadow, Phoenix, Hope and Uno.
“When our wolves wake up in the morning after sleeping for much of the night, they greet each other with lots of face licks and wagging tails, even though they’ve been sleeping near each other the whole time,” said Rogers. “They seem to be light sleepers, always listening and smelling for potential danger. If one hears a noise and wakes up, they often will do a barking vocalization that can also alert the others.”
Wolves sleep around eight hours in a 24-hour period, usually lightly, with a long rest at night or after a big meal and with short naps throughout the day. Uno, CMZoo’s three-year-old female Mexican wolf was seen sleeping deeply when she was a pup, though.
“When they’re young, they often cuddle with their mothers,” said Rogers. “We would see Uno climbing up on top of her late mom, Luna, to sleep right on top of her in the den. She’s also the only one I’ve seen ‘twitching’ in her sleep, like dogs do. We can’t know for sure if she was dreaming, but it looked like she was running in her sleep, so maybe she was.”
Next time you’re at CMZoo, see how your sleep compares to the animals you visit!
Wednesday is our spunky and curious giraffe calf who is learning new things quickly and already starting training!
When Wednesday was six weeks old, Wednesday’s mom, Bailey, had a few off days where she didn’t want to nurse very much. After observing this, keepers stepped in and fed Wednesday milk and grain from a bowl. Bailey seems back to normal and is nursing Wednesday again. Because the keepers needed to step in early, they have been able to start training Wednesday to walk on a scale. Wednesday’s most current weight is 266 pounds.
As she continues to grow and train, Wednesday will learn how to shift spaces and how to touch her nose to a target, and eventually participate in our hoof care program. These important foundational behaviors will help keepers check up on Wednesday’s health and move around the giraffe spaces.