Jan, as we would come to know her, arrived at Fossil Rim from Dallas Zoo on April 20, 2016 with the name “Kenya.” She wasn’t recommended by the Species Survival Plan (SSP) to breed, so Fossil Rim opted to transfer her here to grow our herd. In previous years, we lost our three matriarchal females due to old age, making our herd the smallest it has been with just six individuals. She settled in quickly and was easily identifiable with a distinct “X” at the base of the right side of her neck and was the tallest female giraffe at 15feet. Giraffe herds typically function with one female acting as the matriarch or leader. Although I don’t know her standing with her previous herd at Dallas Zoo, she seemed to naturally be a leader, yet learned to take direction from our herd’s matriarch, “Nettie,” and navigate our large pasture. Jan would occasionally try to lead the herd in a different direction, but without the rest of the herd’s support, she would end up giving in and heading back in the direction of the others. It isn’t the same at feeding time, though. The rest of the herd, including Nettie, give her space and allow her to be the first to the feeding tower and usually let her have her own trough.
It is likely Jan and “Mosi,” our breeding bull, successfully bred during her first heat at Fossil Rim, since just 15 months later, she gave birth to her first calf on July 28, 2017. The male calf was named “Stretch” and was the mirror image of his dad, Mosi. He was bullheaded, stubborn, and very motivated by feed pellets. Jan’s second calf was born on Christmas Eve in 2018. The female calf was named “Betty Jane,” and this time was a mirror image of her mom. Betty Jane is cautious, slightly standoffish, and nervous to enter new situations. Betty Jane and Jan still won’t take pellets from my hand, even though I’ve offered every day I’ve worked with them. I’ve gotten Jan to take a long piece of browse with my arm extended out as far as possible to her - just one time. Although wary of many other things like crossing pavement, small streams, or stepping over a questionable stick, Jan has always been comfortable in the barn. We tend to use her as a buddy for an individual that is occasionally isolated in the barn due to health issues. She doesn’t mind being inside, as long as she is with another individual, and her company has offered a lot of comfort to giraffes in the past.
One of her most endearing quirks is that she is often found in the pasture twirling a small stick or weed in her mouth. It’s usually in the spring or summer, but she will carefully pick out a twig or weed and mouth it for hours, slowly chewing on it and moving it throughout her mouth. Many times I have also caught her calves copying this same behavior that is so uniquely “Jan.” We’re looking forward to another stubborn, stick-twirling, standoffish calf from Jan any day now and will keep you updated!