April the giraffe is an inspiration

Life Moments column
By Christine Bryant

I’ve spent the last two months of my life dedicated to watching a phenomenon.

That phenomenon, known as April the Giraffe, came to a head April 15, as she gave birth to her baby – a process that captivated the world, much to the ire of many spouses.

For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, April was a pregnant giraffe whose last couple of months of pregnancy was live streamed on YouTube from her home at Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, N.Y.. At any given time, thousands watched anxiously as the mom-to-be prepared to give birth.

At times, it seemed like labor could be hours away, prompting the number of watchers on the YouTube live feed to spike as this poor, pregnant giraffe that all of us moms could suddenly relate to paced in her enclosure.

Almost every time I was sure the baby was about to arrive, it didn’t. And the same process would repeat itself over and over until during the early morning of April 15, when she finally went into labor. All of us unanimously rejoiced – in part that a baby giraffe was about to appear on our computer screens, and in part because we were about to be released from our addiction to following the life of a giraffe.

Some of our obsessions with following April were more serious than others. I frequently checked in – whipping out my phone or opening a new tab on my computer while working to see what shenanigans April was pulling.

I enjoyed watching her throw hay over her back and interact with staff who periodically checked on her. Other times, it was downright painful watching her trying to lie down. I remember those days – lying down in a bed was no small task, let alone trying to make it to the floor.

This obsession, which I didn’t consider extreme, was enough to solicit moments of eye rolling and many instances of head shaking as my husband would walk by and see my eyes glued to my screen.

Other people I know (ahem, mom) took another step in making sure they didn’t miss the big moment by carrying an iPad or phone with them and ensuring constant access to the live streaming.

Others joined chat rooms regularly, discussing any signs they saw that the delivery day could be near.

In the end, more than 1.2 million tuned in for April’s delivery, and as of press time, both momma and baby are doing well.

While some argue watching a live feed of a giraffe in captivity wasn’t a good thing – in fact, animal rights activists were briefly to blame for YouTube removing the feed briefly in February – I believe good can come out of this experience regardless of where you fall on the captivity versus wild debate.

According to estimates by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, the number of giraffes has plummeted across Africa by nearly 40 percent in the past two decades to fewer than 100,000. This is due to many factors, from loss of habitat to human population growth and illegal hunting.

Although Animal Adventure Park is a for-profit zoo, some of the fundraising the park has conducted over the past few months has benefitted the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, which is the only non-governmental organization in the world that concentrates solely on the conservation and management of giraffes in the wild throughout Africa.

Perhaps just as – if not more – important is that this viral sensation has started a dialogue and created awareness.

I, too, struggle with captivity versus allowing these beautiful animals to roam a more natural landscape. But I recognize the benefits zoos provide – the education they provide children so that one day they can help fight for the species’ survival, and the efforts that many zoos are making to conduct research and provide protection to a species on the verge of extinction.
I’m willing to recognize that not all zoos are created equally, and even the best zoos don’t always have the best exhibits.

I believe the idea of captivity is not absolute – that maybe one day we can move toward having more reserves and protected areas that still provide education and excitement while ensuring a higher quality of life.

But to do so, we have to have opportunities to educate and pique the interest of the public.
If we let nature take its course, we must be willing to accept the consequences of that decision, and I personally am not ready to do that unless giraffes and other endangered animals have an equal playing field, free from poachers and other outside influences.

Captivity versus wild is never an easy debate, and based on conversations I’ve had with family and friends about the issue and discussion threads I’ve read online, it seems I’m not the only one pulled in different directions.

April the giraffe not only created awareness about the giraffe, which as a species was uplisted to “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s “Red List of Threatened Species” report in December. She also inspired hundreds of thousands to think about what it takes to see giraffes and endangered species once again thrive, and the role we play in ensuring that happens.

Christine Bryant is a Messenger staff writer and columnist.

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