(COLORADO SPRINGS) — The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has established a first-of-its-kind giraffe training and giraffe emergency response program, according to their website.

The International Center for the Care and Conservation of Giraffe is a concentrated effort by CMZoo to expand educational programs and consolidate resources to not only improve but enrich the lives of giraffes in human care throughout the world. Through this program, CMZoo’s giraffe herd has seen over 200 giraffe calf births.

“We have a long history of caring for a large herd of prolific, interactive giraffe that participate in daily guest feedings, weekly hoof care and a wide variety of trained voluntary husbandry and medical procedures,” said Amy Schilz, Senior Animal Behaviorist. “With this new program, we can help giraffe all over the world get that same level of care.”

The International Center for the Care and Conservation of Giraffe has three main goals:

  1. Improve the quality of veterinary care available for giraffe in human care and leverage that information for field conservation.
  2. Continue to advance behavioral husbandry practices to improve giraffe welfare.
  3. Establish Emergency Response Teams worldwide to respond to giraffe health emergencies and field conservation needs.

“We’ve been leading giraffe care workshops since 2015,” said Schilz. “Now that CMZoo has made this investment in a fully dedicated staff and resources, we’re going to be able to reach so many more people and ultimately improve the lives of more giraffe.”

CMZoo says the program is a modern approach to cooperative care for animals. For more than a decade, CMZoo’s giraffe herd has participated in voluntary husbandry training where trainers reward animals for doing something asked of them – usually something that benefits their ongoing health care – such as training for injections, blood draws, x-rays, eye exams, hoof care and more.

“Giraffe are incredibly smart,” said Schilz. “Our whole herd voluntarily participates in their own hoof care. We ask them to come to the training panel where they raise their leg to rest their hoof on a block. Then we can trim, file or x-ray their hoof while we give them lots of rye crackers. It’s incredibly fulfilling as a trainer, and I’m excited to be able to share these methods with even more giraffe lovers through this new Center.”

This method of training means giraffes can choose whether or not they want to approach trainers or walk away. Voluntary training can also prevent the risks of anesthesia, which are always prevalent for large animals, such as giraffes. CMZoo states that giraffes are typically eager to participate since they receive rewards, rather than being forced to do something the animal doesn’t understand.

CMZoo’s ten-year-old female giraffe, Bailey, is one of many that are trained to participate in voluntary blood draws. Bailey’s care team is able to track her overall health since she is well-behaved. Her behavior also allows the team to test the dosing and longevity of a medication that can be used to help wild giraffe combat skin disease. Findings from Bailey’s serial blood samples have been shared with the greater zoo community and conservation partners to help better manage skin infections in giraffes in human care and in the wild, states CMZoo.

“Determining appropriate and effective doses of medications helps better manage giraffe health everywhere, and helps prevent drug resistance,” said Dr. Liza Dadone, senior giraffe veterinarian. “Especially when you’re working with wild giraffe, your access for repeating doses is very limited, so you want to be sure you’re using medications that will get the job done.”

Bailey welcomed a new baby daughter, Wednesday morning on Oct. 19. She gave birth just one hour and 32 minutes after a group of visitors saw Bailey’s water break in the giraffe yard, states CMZoo. The newborn is the 17th member of CMZoo’s reticulated giraffe herd and the seventh to be sired by dad, Khalid.

Recent reports showed an increase in wild giraffe populations by 20% since 2015 with around 117,000 giraffes documented, according to CMZoo. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) categorizes giraffes as vulnerable to extinction. Two northern subspecies are considered critically endangered including Masai and reticulated giraffe (the subspecies found at CMZoo) are endangered.