When a baby giraffe was born with an unusual joint problem in February, caretakers at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park got worried. And then they got creative.
The keepers were concerned that baby Msituni wouldn’t be able to feed or move properly. Joints in her front legs were hyperextended and bent the wrong way, putting stress on her hind legs and her entire skeletal structure.
In a flash, they reached out to folks at the Hanger Clinic, a national company that provides prosthetics and orthotics — to humans.
“It was pretty surreal when I first heard about it,” Ara Mirzaian, a Hanger employee who took the case, told the Associated Press. “Of course, all I did was go online and study giraffes for like 24/7 until we got out [to the zoo].”
Animals using prosthetics is not new, but a newborn baby giraffe presents a unique challenge. In addition to her joint issues, Msituni needed IV antibiotics for irregularities in her blood, and hoof extenders on her back legs to help compensate for the troubles in her front legs, according to a San Diego Zoo Safari Park press release.
So while Msituni’s crew at the zoo kept her stable, Mirzaian got to work. He teamed up with a company that makes braces for horses, using molds of the baby giraffe’s legs. The braces were completed in little more than a week, complete with giraffe spots!
”We put on the giraffe pattern just to make it fun,” Mirzaian said. “We do this with kids all the time.”
After spending her first weeks in the hospital, Msituni finally joined the zoo’s giraffe family under the care of Yamikani, an adult female with a baby born just days after Msituni. (Sadly, Msituni’s mom did not take her back after the calf’s extended hospital stay.)
The braces are now off Msituni’s healed legs and she’s free to frolic in the zoo’s savannah habitat. The zoo posted a sweet video of Msituni recently to celebrate her journey:
Meet Msituni. The now 3-month-old giraffe calf was born with unstable wrist joints, causing her front legs to bend improperly. Wildlife care specialists needed to intervene quickly to save her life and partnered with orthotists at the @HangerNews to design custom leg braces. pic.twitter.com/Mgd2szt05K
— San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (@sandiegozoo) May 14, 2022
Go, Msituni, go!
Excuse me, I’ve got something in my eye over here.