Q&A: MATT THOMPSON, 

Large Mammal Curator at the Memphis Zoo

Matt Thompson's first job with the Memphis Zoo was as a seasonal keeper. Now, 13 years later, he is a curator, working with the zoo's pandas, primates, polar bears, and other large mammals. Recently, the zoo had some new additions to its collection of exotic animals, including Kofi, a baby giraffe born about a month ago. — Shara Clark

FLYER: DID EVERYTHING GO WELL WITH Kofi's BIRTH?

Thompson: Yes, it was basically a textbook birth. The mother, 14-year-old Marilyn, started giving birth around 10:30 a.m., and quite a crowd gathered. It's not very often you get to see a giraffe give birth. Just like with humans, you can have complications, such as the baby being breech, but he presented just right. He came out front feet and head first, and at around noon, the baby hit the ground.

How do giraffes give birth?

Thompson: When the water breaks and the baby starts to move forward, the mom does a lot of walking to keep things moving. Then she'll stop and strain and push a little bit, and then she'll walk some more. So that's what we saw, and she kept to herself on one side of the exhibit. It's about six feet to the ground for a baby, but they're born fairly slowly, and they've got long bodies, so by the time the front end hits the ground, it's only a short fall, and they kind of plop onto the ground headfirst.

How did marilyn react to kofi?

click to enlarge Kofi with mother Marilyn
  • Kofi with mother Marilyn

Thompson: She cleaned him up, and she stood over him to guard from predators, which is instinctual. There is a relatively high predation rate of baby giraffes in the wild, so when they come out, the mom is on high alert. After the baby sits up, the mother bumps it with her legs to get it to stand up. Sometimes even after the baby stands up, the mother will knock it down just to makes sure that the baby knows how to get up.

How big is Kofi?

Thompson: He was nearly 6 feet tall and around 120 pounds when he was born. Now he's between 150 and 175 pounds.

WHY DID THE ZOO NAME HIM KOFI?

Thompson: It's an African name that means "baby boy born on a Friday."

DO GIRAFFES SLEEP STANDING UP?

Thompson: They do normally snooze standing up. Occasionally, they will sit down, but it's more like they're reclining. They get on their side and roll up with their legs under them, but their head and neck are still vertical.

IS THERE ANY other BABY NEWS?

Thompson: We've got another pregnant giraffe who is due later this year. Our elephant is also expecting, and we had a bontebok, an African antelope, born last month.

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