OAKLAND — There's a long-necked, 100-pound, 5-foot-3-inch, gangly legged new baby at the Oakland Zoo.
Yes, it's a baby giraffe — the first one born at the zoo in more than two years. And he's already stealing hearts.
The bundle of reticulated joy is nine days old, born at 4 p.m. May 3. He doesn't have a name yet, sticks close to mama like a good baby should, sleeps a lot and was recently intrigued to discover something closely pursuing him.
"Yesterday, he discovered the pompom on the end of his tail, and he spent hours trying to look at it," said giraffe keeper Amy Phelps. "He's not coordinated enough yet to turn all the way around, so he keeps tripping over his own feet."
Keepers are overjoyed with the healthy, spunky infant. They'd be passing around cigars if they did that sort of thing.
"We're just being grateful he's healthy and crossing our fingers he stays that way," Phelps said.
So far, mother and baby are doing well, and the little one will be ready to greet the public in May. They're giving him some "me time" to get settled, get used to his skin — and his tail — before being gradually introduced to the rest of the herd.
He's sure to be a hit — with giraffes and people alike — with his long blond eyelashes, obsidian eyes and perky ears that look a little too big for his head. His small hooves look polished, with light-colored tips. That's because he's new here.
"It's a new baby thing," Phelps said. "Giraffes are born with something called 'angel slippers,' a rubbery, smooth coating that serves to protect the mom as the baby comes through the birth canal. It sloughs off in a few days, exposing the pristine hooves underneath."
The baby has been eating well. He's still nursing but will start on solid food soon. He was about 95 pounds at birth and almost made a public debut — mother Twiga started giving birth to him in the giraffe enclosure, in front of numerous zoo visitors.
"The baby's legs started coming out, and the keepers were able to coax Twiga into the barn just in time," zoo spokeswoman Nancy Filippi said. "Otherwise, it could have been a problem because the mother would not have allowed the baby to be moved."
Last Friday, the little guy was groggy from a nap as he and Twiga stood in their section of the giraffe barn. She leaned down and nudged him gently with her nose, encouraging him to move to another part of the barn.
Let's just say, Twiga sticks her neck out for her kids.
"Twiga is a really good mom. She takes her job very seriously,'' Phelps said. "This is her sixth baby, so she knows just what to do."
She's a helicopter mom — you know, one of those hovering ones. Every step the baby took, Twiga would mirror. After a 15-month gestation period, you must get kind of attached.
Sadly, the baby's father is no longer with us. The dad, a bull named Kodjo, died last year during surgery for a urinary tract obstruction. So this little one is the last in Kodjo's line.
His grandmother is Tiki, the 18-year-old giraffe at the zoo who recently made news for getting a custom-made coat to ease her arthritis condition.
The last baby giraffe born at the zoo was about two years ago, also to Twiga. Animals at the zoo don't just have babies willy-nilly. Pregnancies are carefully monitored by the keepers, who feed the female giraffes oral contraceptives daily in a strawberry jam sandwich.
The new baby may or may not stay in Oakland for the long haul.
"Chances are, he'll go out and be part of the national breeding program," Phelps said. "But we're thrilled to have him here right now. It's so exciting to watch him growing every day.
"As they grow, their vision gets better, hearing gets better," she added. "This is the seventh baby giraffe in my time here, and it never gets old. You can't help but instantly fall in love with them."
Reach Angela Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org.