Millie is like any newborn — she takes comfort being close to her mother, she’s learning the world and she needs frequent feedings — but she also weighed 110 pounds at birth and stands 5.5 feet tall.
Zoosiana welcomed Millie the giraffe on Sept. 20, the second calf born to parents Gabriel and Evangeline, the star giraffe couple at the zoo in Broussard. Millie stands about the length of her mother’s legs and in the month since her birth has begun spending progressively more time outside the giraffe barn as she grows more confident, Zoosiana general manager Matt Oldenburg said.
The young giraffe is part of a baby boom at the zoo, which recently has seen newborn black bucks, water bucks, cranes, squirrel monkeys and pythons, but Millie especially has captured the hearts of staff and visitors, he said.
“You can’t get much cuter than a baby giraffe,” he said.
The youngster is still figuring out the basics, like how to control her tail twitches and manage her long tongue, but she’s gradually becoming more adept at navigating her surroundings. Millie is expected to nurse exclusively for the first couple months, then gradually shift to a blended diet of grain, hay and milk until Evangeline weans her around the 6- to 8-month mark.
The young giraffe will continue to grow for several years, like her sister Josie, and is expected to fall between Evangeline’s roughly 14-foot stature and Gabriel’s 16-foot height and will weigh around 1,800 pounds, he said.
It’s still up in the air which parent Millie may take after personality-wise. Father Gabriel is an outgoing flirt, Oldenburg said, who loves to greet guests and seek attention, while mother Evangeline is more timid and hesitant to approach visitors.
Right now, the focus is on the strong relationship between Millie, Evangeline and Josie, who’s helping care for the youngster as she observes Evangeline and learns how she’ll care for her own calf one day. The three female giraffes have a strong connection and sense of comfort and safety among one another, Oldenburg said.
“To have a healthy, happy baby is such an incredible reward. When we saw that baby standing an hour after being born and saw how attentive and caring Evangeline was, and even how special Josie was with Millie, I mean you can’t ask for a better result than that. We’re overwhelmingly proud and overwhelmingly excited,” he said.
The month-old giraffe’s birth holds special significance for Oldenburg, who named the giraffe after the late Melinda Mangham, a beloved Lafayette High gifted English teacher and education advocate who died in April. Oldenburg was a teenager when his family bought the zoo. In 2006, when Zoosiana welcomed Gabriel, Oldenburg was in Mangham’s class.
The educator gave the teen a copy of a local newspaper highlighting Gabriel’s addition and he has it still, Oldenburg said. The two struck up a friendship in her classroom and remained close after graduation. Mangham was always fond of the giraffes and a supporter of Zoosiana, coming to visit at least once a year, the general manager said.
She was delighted by the animals and the fact Gabriel and Evangeline’s names originated from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie.”
“Her last message to me, which came in February, said: ‘Never forget I’m the original godmother of the zoo’s giraffes.’ I didn’t know that would be her last text message to me,” he said.
As Millie’s birth approached, Oldenburg realized the calf’s birth presented the perfect opportunity to honor the beloved educator. He reached out to her daughter, Elizabeth Mangham, who gave the family’s blessing for the namesake.
“It’s a once in a lifetime feeling. Just incredible...Her presence was so powerful but she was so gentle and just somebody that you want to spend as much time with as you can. She shared her wisdom to no end. It’s unbelievably special to be able to do this,” Oldenburg said.
Now that Millie has arrived, Zoosiana is advancing plans to move the giraffe enclosure to a large pasture on the north side of the park. The area is roughly three acres and will feature a new 60-foot by 60-foot barn with multiple 20-foot entry doors, a herd stall where females can nurse calves and individual stalls to separate the males from nursing mothers, Oldenburg said.
The manager estimated construction of the barn, coupled with improvements to existing fencing and utility installation, will cost $200,000. Zoosiana hopes to begin construction at the beginning of 2021, with the aim of completing construction within 12 months and having the giraffes settled in the new enclosure within 18 months, he said.
The zoo has already begun moving ostriches and black bucks, a type of antelope, from the area to new enclosures to prepare the pasture.
Changes to the environment will be minimal; the existing fencing will be fortified to prevent collapses if the giraffes lean their necks against them, existing trees will have barriers placed around the roots to prevent the giraffes from trampling the trees while feeding on leaves and an existing two-story observatory deck will be maintained for visitors, Oldenburg said.
Brainstorming for the new enclosure began in 2016 after Josie was born and ramped up when Evangeline became pregnant with Millie. The added space will allow the zoo to continue growing its giraffe population by bringing in an unrelated male giraffe as a potential future mate for Josie or Millie, Oldenburg said.
Reticulated giraffes are endangered internationally from habitat loss and hunting, and Zoosiana wants the opportunity to support their preservation while ensuring their giraffe family has the best living conditions possible, he said.
“You don’t want anybody to be cramped or uncomfortable. We’re not close to that point right now, but you want everybody to have their own space to roam, to eat, to go inside, to do whatever it is they want to do at whatever level of comfort they want it,” Oldenburg said.
The zoo has launched a fundraiser in conjunction with Millie’s birth to rally public support for the expansion of the giraffe center. A donation link and information about Zoosiana’s giraffes are available at https://zoosiana.com/giraffes.