Put anything in front of a webcam, and people will stare at it. That's been true since the earliest days of the internet, when people around the world inexplicably tuned in to watch a livestream of a coffee pot at Cambridge University, and it was still true still last summer, when people waited with bated breath for corpse flowers to bloom at botanical gardens in New York and DC.
The maxim still holds. On February 22, a park in Harpursville, New York, launched its "Giraffe Cam," and ever since, the number of people watching and waiting for April to birth her fourth calf has hovered at just more than 100,000. But now that it's been more than a week, the meme makers of the world are growing impatient. Internet denizens have famously short attention spans, but in this case, feelings of betrayal seemed warranted: A giraffe in Denver gave birth to a smirking calf named Dobby last week seemingly out of nowhere. Still, I was able to withhold my suspicion until about noon today, when a zookeeper came onto the stream and stared at April's crotch for a few minutes before walking away.
All of this made me wonder: Does anyone know what is going on with this giraffe? Or giraffes in general? Why are elderly ones on birth control catching zookeepers by surprise, while ones set up with reality shows aren't doing shit? Why does April spend all of her time staring longingly at her alleged co-parent, Oliver, if she's already knocked up? "He is a bull - and a bull is a bull is a bull!" the YouTube description for Giraffe Cam taunts like an Cheshire cat. If the powers that be were going to feed me tautologies out of 1984, should I believe their giraffe was pregnant, just because they said it was?
Anyway, I decided to poke around and see if anyone could tell me some basic information about what the holdup might be. My mission was to find out if zookeepers only know marginally more than the rest of us. To begin with, April the giraffe is not exactly bursting at the seems as compared to the giraffe in this picture, which, by all reasonable standards, is extremely and obviously pregnant.
So as my first foray into fact-finding, I contacted the respective zoos in Denver and Harpursville. Sean Andersen-Vie at the former hit me with some stats about their giraffe who just gave the sneak-attack birth.
"It looks like we weighed her on February 26, and she was 1711 pounds," he told me. "Dobby was born at 73 pounds, roughly half what an average giraffe weighs at birth. Around the time of conception, it looks like she was around 1,545." Meanwhile, a representative at the park hosting the livestream said April was about 2,000 pounds at the moment. The math, at least, seemed to check out.
But the skeptic in me persisted. After all, couldn't someone just google "average giraffe weight pregnant" and pass that info along to any curious party? Feeling that his answer didn't necessarily prove much of anything, I knew I had to dig a little deeper.
In this case, digging deeper meant reaching out to a third party. The obvious option was to reach out to a neutral, third-party zoo, like the famous one in the Bronx. "I'm writing because I'm putting together a story and need to speak with someone who has expertise in how giraffes behave in captivity and who can answer basic questions about their reproductive process," my very simple query read. A man replied very quickly to ask what the story was about, to which I explained, "What's normal for a giraffe that's pregnant, and what giraffe behavior in captivity is like."
My crucial mistake, apparently, was referencing the livestream upstate.
"We wouldn't be able to speculate on behaviors of an animal in another facility or make comparisons without knowing more about the conditions and care at this location," he replied. "Sorry."
To be clear, the questions I wanted to ask were along the lines of:
1. At what age is a giraffe considered sexually mature? When's menopause?
2. Do older giraffes have babies that weigh less?
3. Do giraffes ever hide their pregnancies?
4. Do giraffes have "due dates?"
I also sent out my query to the Philadelphia Zoo, the Long Island Game Farm, Virginia Safari Park, the San Diego Zoo, and the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska, to NO RESPONSE. Honestly, I would think that these questions could be answered by opening up a Zoobooks on giraffes, so the fact that no one would/could answer them means that either a) there is an Illuminati-level conspiracy surrounding April the giraffe or b) no one knows even the most basic details about how giraffes work.
Operating on the assumption that the zookeeping profession was a sham, I reached out to Stephanie Fennessy, who's the director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (a.k.a. not a shill for Big Zoo). She immediately provided some helpful information: Giraffe pregnancy should be obvious to the trained eye. Hmm…
Beyond that, though, she couldn't tell me if April might be hiding her baby bump from the father, Oliver the bull, or if she might be pulling the same stunt as this panda who faked pregnancy to get more food.
"We don't have expertise on captive giraffe," she explained. "I have tried to answer some of your questions below, but I fear you might be trying to anthropomorphize giraffe here a little and maybe better to chat with a zoo expert."
I was back where I started, being told to consult the Big Zoo operatives who had stonewalled me.
"And say hi to your colleagues from the giraffe!" the person who had literally just accused me of trying to imbue giraffes with human-like qualities taunted as her sign-off. I took her condescending tone as evidence that she was trying discourage me from continuing my mission––and therefore that I must be getting close to the Truth.
I've been watching April on the Giraffe Cam for seven days and have seen no indication that this skinny bitch is any closer to giving birth than she was on February 24. The zookeepers of America refuse to disclose why, and the world's foremost experts say they can't help. What are they trying to hide?
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