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Lulu the giraffe turns 6 months old

Posted by: Alissa Wolken, Communications

Lulu is a curious, "independent calf with a lot of spirit," according to lead keeper, Katie Ahl. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Today is Lulu's half birthday! In honor of the special day, we asked lead keeper Katie Ahl for an update on Seattle’s tallest baby.

Woodland Park Zoo (WPZ): How is Lulu doing?

Katie Ahl (KA): Lulu is doing great. She was introduced as part of the herd from very early on and has positive relationships with each herd member, but in general she is a very independent calf with a lot of spirit.

WPZ: Can you describe Lulu’s relationship with the rest of the herd?

KA: It looks a little different with each member. Her mom, Tufani, is her home base when something startles her. But I often see Lulu hanging out with Olivia, who is just as great of an aunt as she was a mother. Lulu also has a lot of contact and check-ins with dad, Dave. They are both very cute together; she spends more time with him out on the savanna than in the corrals

WPZ: Speaking of the herd, how are they doing?

KA: They’re doing well. We just received our new breeding recommendations through the giraffe Species Survival Plan (SSP) and we will be allowing Dave and Olivia to breed this winter!

WPZ: How has Lulu changed over the past 6 months?

KA: When Lulu was born, she weighed in at 149 pounds and was 5 feet 9 inches tall. When we weighed her earlier this month, she was up to 566 pounds and now stands between 8 ½ and 9 feet tall.

While she’s continuing to grow, one thing that hasn’t changed since she was born is her independent personality and her curiosity. She’s very curious about everything; food, rakes, keepers (you name it), and we’re using that to our advantage to get her exposed and used to as much as possible so that she will be better prepared for life at another zoo one day.

Lulu is still nursing, but also eats all the same items as the other giraffe; she even gets her own portion of grain and beet pulp, and as she grows and weans we will increase that amount. She also has access to the whole barn and corrals daily and, when the weather is good, she and the rest of the giraffe go to the savanna for a few hours. They spend less time on the savanna in the winter, but they are often viewable at the barn.

May you never outgrow your curiosity, Lulu. You either, Dave. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

WPZ: Training is a great way to get animals to actively participate in their own care. Is Lulu doing any sort of training with her keepers yet?

KA: She’s undergoing a lot of training right now. The main things we’re working on with her include:
  • Shift training: getting Lulu to move voluntarily to where we need her is a foundation to other training. She is also learning to be away from the rest of the herd (but can still see them) for short periods of time. We use that time to feed her and do training sessions with her.  
  • Tactile/touch desensitization: being able to touch her neck back and legs are helpful for exams and hoof trimming.
  • Scale training: getting Lulu to step up and stand on the scale on cue. That way we can track her weight and growth. She’s a pro at this.
  • Target training: Asking the animal to touch part of its body to an item so that we can direct them to certain parts of the barn or direct certain parts of their body to a certain location. For giraffe the target is a large red pool float on a stick and we ask them to touch their nose to the target. One use of this would be to hold the target close to the scale so as she moves to the target she steps on the scale. This helps us build other behaviors.
  • Chute training: getting her comfortable with staying in an enclosed area for physical exams is very helpful for her health and well-being. Training her to do this voluntarily as part of her regular routine lessens the stress of those exams by making them feel normal and every day.
We’ll begin adding hoof trim training, and maybe ultrasound or eye and ear exam training too. But not before we work on everything else first.

Inside the barn, Lulu touches her nose (and tongue!) to a target as part of her training. Photo: Katie Ahl/Woodland Park Zoo.

WPZ: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us, Katie!

And thanks to our readers for joining us for the update. Lulu and family are often out daily, either on the savanna or in the corral. Be sure to visit!