When Msituni was born, zoo keepers were worried the baby giraffe might die. Her front legs bent the wrong way, making standing nearly impossible. Now, thanks to special braces, she’s healthy and playing with other giraffes.
Msituni is a young giraffe born on February 1 at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Her name, which is pronounced “see-tune-nee”, is Swahili for “in the forest”.
When Msituni was born, zoo workers knew right away there was a problem. One front leg was bending the wrong way. The problem made it hard for Msituni to stand or walk. Zoo workers worried that she might not survive, since she needed to be able to stand to get milk from her mother.
The problem was caused by the bones in one of Msituni’s front legs. But the problems in that leg soon caused problems in the other front leg. Msituni was about 5 feet, 10 inches (178 centimeters) tall when she was born, and weighed more than 120 pounds (55 kilograms). The more she tried to stand, the more stress she put on her joints.
Dr. Matt Kinney, the veterinarian in charge of Msituni, knew she needed braces to support her legs. The day she was born, he got some supports from a local store, and worked to make them fit.
When the supports kept sliding off, he tried medical braces made for humans. He changed the braces to better fit Msituni’s long legs. These temporary braces helped, but didn’t last.
So the zoo reached out to a company called Hanger Clinic. Hanger Clinic has worked for years to create artificial arms, legs, and other body parts for people who need them. Hanger Clinic has designed prosthetics for Paralympic athletes. In 2006, the company even helped create a replacement tail for a dolphin.*
Hanger Clinic hadn’t worked with a giraffe before, but Ara Mirzaian, who works there, said he immediately began studying giraffes. Together, the team carefully measured Msituni’s legs and made models of them.
Msituni’s braces needed to be tough. Working with a company that makes braces for horses, Hanger Clinic was able to create extremely tough braces made of a material called carbon graphite.
Just for fun, the braces were decorated with a spotted pattern similar to Msituni’s own spots. “We do this with kids all the time. They get to pick super-heroes, or their favorite team,” Mr. Mirzaian says. “So why not do it with a giraffe?”
Msituni made quick progress. By the time the braces arrived from Hanger Clinic, she only needed one of them. With her new brace, she quickly became healthier and grew to a more normal size for a giraffe her age. After 39 days of braces, Msituni was able to walk on her own again.
After spending most of her life in the zoo hospital, Msituni has now joined the rest of the zoo’s giraffe herd. That will help her learn many of the giraffe skills she has missed out on. Best of all, she has a playmate. Nuru is another young female giraffe who’s just four days younger than Msituni.
* This story was later turned into the 2011 movie “Dolphin Tale”.
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