Breeding program recommendations prompt changes to the herd
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s six-year-old Maasai giraffe Jambo was transported to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium yesterday, where she will be paired with a genetically-valuable male to breed. Moves like this are key to maintaining the genetic diversity of this species in North American Zoos.
“Maasai giraffe are one of the four distinct giraffe species which makes them a unique population in zoos. As much as we love Jambo we also love the species and want to make sure we are doing everything we can to support the population to make sure we will have Maasai giraffe for generations to come. The fact that she is only moving 2 hours up the road also means we can go visit whenever we like!,” said Cincinnati Zoo’s Curator of Mammals Christina Gorsuch.
The move was recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) giraffe Species Survival Plan (SSP), the group responsible for managing the population in North America. The SSP has also recommended that Cincinnati’s two adult females, Tessa and Cece, breed again with the Zoo’s 10-year-old male, Kimba. He has sired calves with both and with Jambo as well.
The two calves that were born in Cincinnati in 2016, Zoey and Cora, are no longer dependent on their moms and will likely get SSP breeding recommendations to move to other Zoos in the near future. Cora’s genetics are particularly underrepresented in the current North American population, which includes 123 individuals.
The Cincinnati Zoo’s history with giraffe births dates back to 1889 when it became the first zoo in the Western Hemisphere to produce a baby giraffe. Zoey was the 15th giraffe born in Cincinnati. Unlike many species, there is no true breeding season for the Maasai giraffe and females can become pregnant beginning at three years of age.
New genetic analysis has revealed that there are four distinct species of giraffe, not one. Up until recently it was believed that there was one species with several subspecies. The unexpected findings call for further study of the four genetically-isolated species and for greater conservation efforts for the world’s tallest mammal.