Who is April?

I heard that at a least a dozen times last month from friends and colleagues. With more than 1.2 million people logging in to watch  her give birth live online, there were still some who had no clue as to her identity. Over 232 million views took place in the two months the streaming was live.

By now everyone knows that April is a reticulated giraffe at the Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, New York. She gained worldwide fame after a live video of her in the late stages of pregnancy went online in February 2017. It is safe to label this particular sensation as “going viral”. By the time the camera was shut off, the YouTube feed had accumulated 232 million views. 

But why the fascination with April?

April checking out the live stream camera.

I suppose watching a giraffe stand around and wait to give birth is a nice change of pace from all of the bad news and political rants that normally clog up our Facebook pages on a daily basis. There’s a lot of political upheaval and negativity, and April is a surprising bright spot amid all that turmoil.

And there are the animal lovers; a lot of them (me, me, me). April’s live feed was a unique way of getting incredibly up close and personal with the circle of life, something most of us will never witness in person.

Was it about the mystery of a giraffe? The gentle giants who appear to move slowly and with such elegant grace have captured the fascination of many. If so, April has also inspired students and adults alike to learn more about the species.

There are actually four distinct species of giraffes. The northern giraffe, southern giraffe, reticulated giraffe, and Masai giraffe.

Did you know that giraffes are the world’s tallest mammals, thanks to their towering legs and long necks? A giraffe’s legs alone are taller than many humans—about 6 feet . These long legs allow giraffes to run as fast as 35 miles an hour over short distances and cruise comfortably at 10 miles an hour over longer distances.

Giraffes use their height to their advantage and browse on leaves and buds in treetops that few other animals can reach. Even the giraffe’s tongue is long at 21-inches. This size helps them pluck tasty morsels from branches. Giraffes eat most of the time and, much like cows, regurgitate food and chew it as cud. A giraffe eats hundreds of pounds of leaves each week and must travel miles, typically through the open grasslands in small groups of about half a dozen to find enough food.

The giraffe’s stature can be a disadvantage as well—it is difficult and dangerous for a giraffe to drink at a water hole. To do so they must spread their legs and bend down in an awkward position that makes them vulnerable to predators like Africa’s big cats. Fortunately, giraffes only need to drink once every several days as they get most of their water from the plants they eat.

And as we all know now, female giraffes give birth standing up. Their young endure a rather rude welcome into the world by falling more than 5 feet to the ground at birth. These infants can stand in half an hour and run with their mothers an incredible ten hours after birth.

Despite the fascination of April and her baby, Tajiri, and the peace, hope, unity, community – all the benefits touted by so many viewers watching this process for over a month – there were other larger benefits. Giraffes are endangered. Over the past 15 years, numbers of the world’s tallest animal have plummeted from an estimated 140,000 to a low of about 80,000. That’s a shocking drop from the possibly more than 2 million animals that roamed the continent 150 years ago.

The giants strike many as so gentle and unobtrusive that discovering that they too are headed toward extinction seems counterintuitive, especially considering the recent outpouring of love for the creatures. Like many other creatures the world over, the long-necked herbivores have declined mostly due to habitat loss and threats from the growing human population, such as poaching.

For two weeks after the birth, the park invited April’s fans to weigh in on what the baby boy’s name should be. Out of 10 finalists, they chose to allow April’s favorite keeper and human, Allysa Swilley, to pick. Allysa chose the name Tajiri, explaining that it stands for king, hope, and confidence in Swahili.

Melody K. Smith

Sponsored by Access Innovations, the world leader in thesaurus, ontology, and taxonomy creation and metadata application.