BROOKFIELD, Ill. — One of Brookfield Zoo’s newest residents is already 10 feet tall and still growing. Asha (pronounced Ah-shah), a 2-year-old female reticulated giraffe arrived recently and can now been seen in the outdoor area at Habitat Africa! The Savannah with the herd.
Since her arrival on May 6, she has been behind the scenes acclimating to the animal care staff and being introduced to the other giraffes—Potoka, 9; Ato, 7; Jasiri, 17; and Arnieta, 16.
Staff describe Asha as a confident and curious giraffe, who will be a great addition to the herd. Her coat is lightly colored and she has a delicate and expressive face.
An iconic species of Africa, the reticulated giraffe grows to heights of 17 to 19 feet tall—depending on the gender—making it the tallest land mammal.
Its underlying white coloring appears as a network of lines between the varying sizes and shapes of chestnut brown to almost black spots, hence how the name reticulated came to be. The coat pattern—unique to each individual animal—also serves as camouflage.
In addition to having a very long neck, which has only seven vertebrae—the same number as humans, the giraffe’s purplish-gray prehensile tongue is also long. It can be between 18 to 20 inches and is used for grasping and removing leaves and shoots from trees.
The transfer of Asha to Brookfield Zoo from another accredited North American zoo was based on a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Giraffe Species Survival Plan (SSP).
An SSP is a cooperative population management program for select species in accredited North American zoos and aquariums. Each plan manages the breeding of a species to maintain a healthy and self-sustaining population, which is both genetically diverse and demographically stable.
It was determined that Asha is a good genetic match with Ato, the Zoo’s breeding male. She will be paired with him once she reaches sexual maturity.
Due to the reticulated giraffe population’s continuous decline, in 2018, the species was listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
Found across northern and north-eastern Kenya and small populations in southern Ethiopia and along the south-eastern border of Somalia, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) estimates only about 16,000 individuals remain in their native habitat.
Causes for the decline of reticulated giraffes include habitat loss and fragmentation, increased poaching, and political unrest. (GCF estimates the current total of all giraffe species in Africa to be about 117,000 individuals, a decrease from the more than 155,000 that existed in the 1980s.)
Through AZA’s Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) program, accredited zoos and their partners are working collectively to help save giraffes through education, scientific study, fieldwork, public awareness, and action.
In 2016, the GCF partnered with two other organizations to perform the first-ever comprehensive DNA sampling and analysis of all major giraffe populations. As a result, an update of the traditional taxonomy now exists, with the study revealing there are four distinct giraffe species, including the reticulated, and several subspecies.