Giraffe and keeper both pregnant

SHARED EXPERIENCE: Auckland Zoo vet Bonnie McKeekinntsT nte and her giraffe patient Rukiya are both pregnant.
JASON OXENHAM
SHARED EXPERIENCE: Auckland Zoo vet Bonnie McKeekinntsT nte and her giraffe patient Rukiya are both pregnant.

Vet Bonnie McKeekin can honestly say she knows what her patient is going through.

She and her charge, Auckland Zoo giraffe Rukiya, are both pregnant.

Miss McKeekin is due at the end of September, and Rukiya's four-legged bundle of joy is expected in August.

The pair share a special bond.

Rukiya developed an abscess in her hoof which needed an operation.

Giraffes face complications from anaesthetic because of their size and a large number do not survive surgery during the first few weeks of her 14 to 16-month pregnancy.

"Everyone that works with giraffes knows it's something they might have to do one day, but it's something you don't do lightly," Miss McKeekin says.

"We needed to go through the process - it could potentially have been a fatal injury. Untreated she may have lived for another six months, but it would have been a painful ending."

A vet came from Australia's Werribee Zoo and an Auckland equine vet was called in to help.

"Their hoofs are so hard we actually needed an angle grinder to get through the hoof wall," she says.

"Because we did so much work with her she has become one of my favourites.

"Although I don't know if I'm one of her favourites because the whole process required darting her to anaesthetise her and following up with antibiotics."

The 12-year-old Rukiya is a mother of four and Miss McKeekin has a 2-year-old daughter.

The vet has been with Auckland Zoo for a year after moving to New Zealand from Australia.

Rukiya may have had the rougher pregnancy but she will definitely be better off when it comes to giving birth, Miss McKeekin says.

The giraffe will be in labour for only one to two hours and her baby will be up and walking soon after birth.

"It's a fairly quick process. I think a lot of women would appreciate a birth like that," Miss McKeekin says.

"I've never see a giraffe give birth. If I'm not on maternity leave I'd love to be there."

The calf will weigh between 60 and 80 kilograms and be about 1.8 metres tall when born.

Neither mother knows if they're having a boy or a girl.

Auckland Zoo is part of an Australasian breeding programme for giraffes.

"The region would prefer it to be a girl just because there is need in another institution for a female.

"I don't think there is any preference in the keeping section here, I think we would just like a nice healthy baby."

Rukiya's first calf died shortly after birth, but the three others - Forrest, Jelani and Nakuru - are all in breeding programmes in Australia.

DID YOU KNOW

Giraffe pregnancies last for 14 to 16 months

Humans and giraffes go through the same stages of labour but giraffes take only one to two hours to give birth. Humans can be in labour for days

Rukiya's calf will weigh 60kg to 80kg when born and be 1.8 metres tall. The average birth weight of a human baby in New Zealand is about 3.5kg

A baby giraffe is called a calf

Giraffe give birth standing up, requiring the newborn to fall two metres to the ground

A newborn calf can stand up and run within an hour

Newborn calves can nearly double their height in the first year

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