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Columbus Zoo provides giraffe plasma to assist with calf medical care

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Posted at 5:57 PM, Jun 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-20 17:57:23-04

The Maryland Zoo partnered with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium to provide additional support to the male giraffe calf born at The Maryland Zoo. 

“The first 48 hours after birth is the critical time for giraffe calves to get the antibodies from mother’s milk, or in our case, the colostrum supplement. While markers in the blood were trending in the right direction, the calf still was not receiving enough of these infection-fighting antibodies from the supplemental feedings,” stated Erin Cantwell, mammal collection and conservation manager.

The only option after the 48-hour window was a plasma transfusion from the blood an adult giraffe. The Maryland Zoo decided to give the giraffe another boost to his immune system with the transfusion. The plasma was donated by the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

“Maryland Zoo hospital keeper Kaitie Kessler drove to Morgantown, West Virginia, Friday night to meet Columbus Zoo Assistant Curator Shannon Morarity and Veterinarian Dr. Priya Bapodra-Villaverde." 

"Kaitie picked up the giraffe plasma and drove it back to the Zoo on ice,” continued Cantwell. “On Saturday, our staff provided the calf the warmed plasma to help improve his immune system and strength.” 

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, in collaboration with the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, is establishing a national blood bank to supply plasma to any AZA-accredited facility that has a neonate that may need it. The primary focus is on species that are part of Species Survival Plans® (SSPs) including banked plasma from the Columbus Zoo’s tigers, elephants, polar bears, wildebeest and more. 

In addition to the plasma transfusion, the Zoo staff has begun to bottle feed the giraffe calf.  

“Normally a calf will nurse on mother’s milk for approximately six months,” said Cantwell.

“Because this calf isn’t nursing, we made the decision to start to bottle feed him yesterday.  Giraffe calves are notoriously difficult to bottle feed and it could take a week to get him on to the bottle according to other colleagues who have had to hand feed giraffe calves. We will also continue to supplement him with formula while he learns to bottle feed, so he will be getting the nutrition he needs.” 

Mother and calf will remain behind the scenes in the Zoo's Giraffe House, and the building will remain closed while the staff cares for the mother and baby.