PEORIA — Large dewy brown eyes that don't shy away from direct contact with humans. Maybelline eyelashes. Adorable knobby knees. A scruffy, cow-licky, flat-topped mane that runs from long neck to short back. A human inquisitiveness. A seriously long, black tongue.
Welcome to Earth, baby giraffe.
"You hate to attach too much human characteristics to animals," said Peoria Zoo director Yvonne Strode on Thursday. "But the affection that mother and daughter have for one another is both obvious and extremely touching. Vivian is a really great mother. "
The nameless newborn giraffe at the Peoria Zoo, 17 days old now, answered no direct questions, but calmly stood for photographs, videos and live Facebook broadcasts Thursday as she was introduced to the media inside her heated enclosure. She is the third giraffe calf born at the zoo to mother, Vivian, and father, Taji, and second since their son, Finely, arrived in July, 2016 at 102.2 pounds. Finely now weighs 900 pounds.
The pair's first offspring, a male born in February 2015, died three hours after birth, underweight at 55 pounds and showing signs of neurological distress.
The new female calf was born Jan. 7, at 122 pounds and 5-foot-10 inches tall, about the height of an average adult American male, or about two inches taller than American actor Zac Efron.
Mother and daughter are doing well.
“Everything is going just the way we would want it to,” zoo director Yvonne Strode said Thursday. “We’re absolutely thrilled.”
The baby girl was born at 2:38 a.m. Jan. 7 in the presence of two veterinarians and a handful of zoo personnel.
"She had some trouble with footing at the beginning, as you would expect," Strode said. "But veterinarian (George Eales) was able to be in the enclosure and stood with her while Vivian licked his ball cap, knowing that he was helping and not hurting her."
Zoo curator Kim Scott called the birth "thrilling and terrifying."
"We, of course, have all sorts of contingencies if something goes wrong, if the calf is ill or won't nurse or if the mother isn't doing her part," Scott said. "So you're watching and waiting for anything to go wrong; at the same time, enamored with this beautiful new baby giraffe."
The public will first get a chance to see the baby girl giraffe starting Feb. 1, when a cardboard covering is removed from the window that looks into the indoor giraffe enclosure. They won't be on outdoor display until temperatures reach a consistently warm 50 degrees.
The birth brings to five the number of giraffes in what is now officially, a tower, or herd, of giraffes. The baby girl joins mother, father and brother, and Emy, a 4-year-old female brought to Peoria from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, in Colorado Springs, Colo. Male Taji, the biggest of the tower, is now 18 feet tall and weighs 1,600 pounds.
Taji and Vivian could breed again and their son, Finely, could be moved to another zoo within the year, according to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan. The pregnancy that resulted in the birth of the newborn female calf occurred while the mother was on an experimental birth control regimen.
"The experiment didn't really work," Strode said.
Strode said Vivian was more attentive following the birth of Finely less than two years ago, and a little more self-assured and confident immediately after the birth of the female earlier this month.
"She didn't freak out when (the newborn) mistakenly tried to nurse on her shoulder instead of finding a nipple," Strode said. "She acted like she had been through this before."
As happens in human families, a third offspring might find itself lacking for many baby photographs in the family album and benefitting from a more relaxed parental style.
"At that point, Vivian could be like ... new baby, whatever," Strode said.
Scott Hilyard can be reched at 686-3244 or by email at email@example.com. Follow @scotthilyard on Twiter.