The giraffe calf drinks from a bottle. Photo via Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.

Despite getting off to a rough start, Maryland Zoo officials are feeling optimistic about their giraffe calf’s future, thanks in no small part to a fresh infusion of antibody-rich plasma from an adult giraffe in Ohio.

The Druid Hill Park-based facility revealed today that its not-so-tiny infant received an intravenous blood plasma transfusion to boost its immune system last weekend.

Though he was born on Thursday in healthy stature, and was able to get on his feet within 20 minutes, the calf didn’t take to nursing from his mother, a vital source for food and antibodies that fend off diseases and early infections. As a result, staff began feeding the animal a colostrum supplement – a formula with the same stuff found in breast milk – to keep him healthy from the start.

However, “while markers in the blood were trending in the right direction, the calf still was not receiving enough of these infection-fighting antibodies from the supplemental feedings,” said mammal collection and conservation manager Erin Cantwell in a statement.

Two days out, the best option was to turn to a more potent source, by way of another giraffe. That’s where the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium stepped in. Maryland Zoo hospital keeper Kaitie Kessler traveled more than 200 miles by car to Morgantown, W.V., last Friday to meet up with the Columbus Zoo’s assistant curator and a veterinarian. There, they handed off a container of giraffe plasma, which Kessler put on ice and drove back to Baltimore. The next day, Maryland Zoo staff transferred the plasma into the unnamed calf’s body.

Photo via Maryland Zoo in Baltimore

Evidently, this is a specialty of the Columbus Zoo. They’ve been training their giraffes and other creatures (tigers, wildebeest, etc.) to willingly receive injections and have blood drawn, and are partnering up with the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs to create a national blood bank for accredited zoos, according to a release. In the case of plasma, veterinarians from The Ohio State University assist with extraction.

Baltimore’s newborn giraffe is one beneficiary of this unique collaboration.

“We are so grateful to the team at the Columbus Zoo for providing us with this potentially lifesaving plasma,” said Cantwell in a statement.

With that operation done, zoo staff have now taken to bottle-feeding the calf. The regular nursing period is about six months. Cantwell noted it’s challenging to teach a giraffe to drink from a bottle, and that he’ll need to continue taking the formula until he gets used to the method.

He and his mom, 7-year-old Kesi, are sequestered away from the rest of the herd while he gets stronger. Eventually, staff plan on introducing him to his long-necked companions.

“We remain optimistic that his health will improve; however, we are taking his condition seriously,” Cantwell said.

Issues aside, the unnamed newborn’s arrival in Baltimore is exciting. He’s one of two giraffes born there in the last four months, and the first calves to arrive in 20 years.

Here’s a video from the zoo further explaining the transfusion and bottle-feeding process:

Giraffe Calf Plasma Transfusion

CALF CARE VIDEO: Supplemental feedings for the Zoo’s giraffe newborn have been helping him, but the calf needed additional antibodies to provide a greater boost to his immune system. The Zoo’s animal care and veterinary teams worked quickly to perform a plasma transfusion made possible thanks to donated giraffe plasma from our partners at Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. It’s the kind of life-saving collaboration that happens often between zoos. In this behind-the-scenes video, get a look inside the successful procedure and learn about all the giraffe team is doing to improve the calf’s health. Read more here:

Posted by The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore on Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...