Where do (145 pound) baby giraffes come from?

This is the story of how one question can grow into a far more interesting exploration of the world in which we live — in this case, the animal world.

My family just got back from a few days in Florida, where we visited my parents. One of the highlights of the trip (other than the ocean) was that my 4.5 year old son, Ben, got to feed a giraffe at Lion Country Safari:

The giraffe, standing about 15 feet tall, grabbed the leafy plant out of Ben’s hand with its black tongue and munched it.

We learned from guides who sold us the plant (for a ridiculous price that made airport food seem inexpensive) that giraffes eat up to 80 pounds of food a day. That makes sense, because they are so huge. But 80 pounds of plants sounded like a lot.

So when we got home, we looked up giraffes, and we found an informative site about giraffes at the San Diego Zoo which told us all sorts of neat facts about giraffes. For example, “a giraffe’s heart is 2 feet long and weighs about 25 pounds, and its lungs can hold 12 gallons of air.”

We also confirmed on that site that giraffes eat up to 75 pounds of food per day. So the folks at Lion Country Safari may have been exaggerating a bit — but not by much.

Now that could have been the end of our exploration — and sadly, much of school today is like that. We’re looking for an answer, and when we find it, we move on. In this case, we were wondering whether giraffes really eat up to 80 pounds of food a day, and it turns out that’s a good estimate.

If this were school, we’d be done — fill in the blank and get ready to go to your next 45-minute class.

But when curious minds are given time to browse intelligently online, we can often find some neat things. And Ben and I found some pretty cool stuff…

For instance, if you were to visit the same giraffe site we did, over at the San Diego Zoo’s website, you could see this one-minute video about a baby giraffe that was born recently at the zoo. I can’t find the direct link to the video, so if you want to see the video for yourself, click the link in the previous sentence and your screen will look like this:

It’s not such an exciting video — it’s basically an interview with the zookeeper and some footage of the baby with its mom. The video is not more specific about when the baby was born, so I’m not sure how recently it was born. It does describe how nearly a thousand people lined up to see the birth live at the zoo, which happened at 2:45 in the afternoon while the zoo was still open.

What grabbed Ben’s and my attention was that a few days after it was born, the baby weighed 145 pounds and was six feet tall!

The video clip at the San Diego Zoo did not show the birth, but … well you can guess where this is going from the title of this post, can’t you?

When we clicked on the second result (I chose that one because it had nearly half a million views), we were treated to one of the most amazing 4.5 minute videos I’ve ever seen — the birth of a baby giraffe from the Memphis Zoo, back in September of 2008:

As only a four year old could have put it: “woah!  It’s coming out of her butt!”

If you have not seen a giraffe give birth before, you really should watch the video — it’s remarkable.

And it leads to all sorts of questions, including what the deal is with the bag covering the giraffe as it was born. I guessed that the bag helped make the birth a smoother ride, but I’m sure it serves other purposes as well.

And now, if my son were a bit older, we could be off into a biology lesson, prompted not because we’re at that page of the biology textbook, but because our curiosity was piqued about HOW a six foot 145-pound baby giraffe might be born.

We live in an amazing and inter-connected world. If we can find a way for middle school students to slow down and take the time to explore and be thoughtful, we might learn some wonderful things — such as where baby giraffes come from 🙂

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About Steve Goldberg

I teach U.S. History at Research Triangle High School, a public charter school in Durham, NC, whose mission is to incubate, prove and scale innovative models of teaching and learning.
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