Saturday, June 22

Three Births Announced at NC Zoo

ASHEBORO N.C. – The North Carolina Zoo has announced the births of a giraffe calf, an infant chimpanzee, and three Sand Cat kittens, all in less than two weeks.

Sand Cat Kittens
Photo provided by NC Zoo

Three sand cat kittens (sexes unknown at this time) were born on May 11. Small enough to fit into the palm of your hand, the kittens were born to first-time mother Sahara, 3, and father Cosmo, 9.

This marks the first litter for the sand cat pair. Cosmo previously fathered daughter Layla, now living at the Greensboro Science Center.

The mom and triplets are doing well. The trio are beginning to explore their surroundings in the Desert Habitat. Lucky guests may be able to catch a glimpse of them in the coming days.

Though they appear adorable with big ears, eyes, and petite frame, looks can be deceiving. Zookeepers are quick to tell you they are wild, ferocious animals that should never be kept as pets.

These small and mighty hunters kill venomous snakes in the desert. They are the only cats to live exclusively in desert environments.

Cosmo and Sahara were paired as a part of the Sand Cat Species Survival Plan and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which aims to maintain a healthy and genetically diverse population of sand cats to increase their numbers. More than 50 sand cats live at over 20 AZA institutions.

Sand cats are native to the deserts of North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and Asia. Nocturnal in nature, they quickly adapt to the extreme climate of desert environments with very hot and cold temperatures.

The Zoo plans to offer a public naming poll for the kittens. Details will be announced soon on the Zoo’s social media channels and website.

Giraffe Calf
Photo provided by NC Zoo

The Zoo’s 13-year-old giraffe Leia gave birth to her calf—already about six feet tall—on Saturday, May 20.

The 145-pound calf was born to parents Leia (cow) and Jack (bull). The first-time mom and her offspring are healthy and currently bonding behind the scenes. The Zoo has had twelve previous giraffe births, making this one lucky thirteen.

The Zoo’s animal care team will determine when mom and calf will join the herd—or tower (group of giraffes) on habitat and in public view. The public is encouraged to tune into the Zoo’s social media channels for photos, updates, and information about how the calf will be named.

In a combined statement from the Zoo’s Giraffe Zookeepers Kristi Myers, Jason Balder, Mary Wilson, and Kelly Davis: “Leia and her calf are doing amazingly well. Our team could not be prouder of how attentive Leia has been with her firstborn. Mom and calf are bonding behind the scenes.”

They continued: “This new arrival brings the team lots of happiness and excitement to have some young, spunky energy around. The rest of the giraffe tower – Jack, Turbo and Amelia – are all very curious of the newbie and are bopping noses whenever they can.”

North Carolina Zoo Director and CEO, Pat Simmons, said “The giraffes at the North Carolina Zoo serve as ambassadors for their wild cousins, giving our guests the opportunity to learn about these majestic creatures and the conservation challenges they face. The Zoo’s direct engagement with conservation in Africa means that every Zoo visitor is helping to ensure the future of this and other species.”

Leia was born in 2009 at Zoo Miami and arrived at the Zoo in 2014. Jack was born in 2008 at Dickerson Park Zoo and arrived at the Zoo in 2009.

Their pairing resulted from a recommendation by the Species Survival Plan of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) which maintains the genetic diversity of species that are in human care.

Giraffe calves are typically five to six feet tall and 150 to 200 pounds when born. This calf appears to be within those healthy parameters. Giraffes are pregnant for a long 14 to 15 months.

You can view a video of the birth on a Facebook post by the NC Zoo.

Chimpanzee Infant
Photo provided by NC Zoo

On Sunday, May 21, a healthy baby boy was born to chimp Gigi dramatically – on habitat in full view of guests.

“In true Gigi fashion, she gave the guests quite the show on Sunday afternoon,” said Animal Management Supervisor Jodi Wiley, who has worked with the chimp troop for several years.

The animal care and veterinarian teams report mother and baby are doing well, and the baby appears healthy, active and nursing.

Gigi, who is 12 years old, is a first-time mother and was born at the Dallas Zoo in 2011. She arrived at the Zoo in 2012 with three other family members – mom Gari, sister Gerre and niece Genie.

Chimps are very protective of their young, and mothers hold the infants exclusively to their chest until about four months of age; only then are they allowed on the ground to begin exploring.

The most recent chimp births were male Obi and female Asha in 2019, who are now rambunctious toddlers.

“Gigi as a mom, has been doing great so far. She’s been holding the baby very close, and the baby has had a firm grip. The rest of her troop has been interested, especially our three-year-old Asha. Gigi has had some great mom role models, including her mom Gari, so we’re excited to see Gigi raise her own,” said Zookeeper Kristy Russell.

This is the sixth chimp birth at the North Carolina Zoo since 2010, making the Zoo currently the most successful Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) zoo for breeding chimps. The Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan (SSP), managed by the AZA, recommended this planned birth.