Dave and Pat Eglin are as proud as new parents.
The couple own Adirondack Animal Land, an 80-acre zoo on Route 30 north of Amsterdam. Late Sunday morning they helped their female giraffe give birth to a healthy, 6-foot-tall calf.
“You think about the miracle of birth,” Dave said. “Goodness sake, a giraffe gives birth to a 6-foot-tall walking animal. That’s a miracle.”
Dave had to stand below the mother, a two-story-tall girl named Tiny, during the birth.
“You don’t want the calf to get brain damage falling from that height,” he said. “I had to catch her.”
Monday afternoon Pat made her usual off-season rounds, checking on animals in stalls. She stayed a little longer with the man-sized newborn.
“She was born on the autumn equinox,” Pat said, stroking her felt-smooth bobbing neck, “so we figured we’d call her Autumn.”
On Monday, Autumn seemed eerily capable for a creature literally born yesterday. She developed fully formed hooves, the white-and-tan fur pattern of her parents and fairly advanced motor skills over a 14-month gestation period.
Pat said she was standing unassisted half an hour after birth and walking a few minutes after that.
On Monday, Autumn leaned her long, flexible neck over a stall door to lip at fingers and shirt sleeves.
As zoo animals go, giraffes have a pretty easy time giving birth in captivity. Given the super long legs and fully formed hooves, one might imagine a more complicated affair. But Pat said giraffes have more in common with horses and cows than white tigers and panda bears.
“We’re bottle feeding her Land O’Lakes calf formula,” she said. “Later on she’ll eat grain and hay.”
Autumn will live in a heated stable away from her parents — Tiny and a male named Stretch — this winter. The Eglins had to split up the family for safety reasons.
If they all lived in the same piece of yard, Autumn wouldn’t bond with Pat. She’d stay a wild animal. Trimming the hooves of a two-story wild animal could be lethal.
According to Pat, the first few months are the easy part. Giraffe care becomes more complicated with size.
They’re not cheap animals. A fully grown female brings $80,000 on the zoo market. Then there’s the constant care and feeding. Autumn’s parents spend the cold upstate winters in a specially constructed, $200,000 two-story building with the heat cranked to African temperatures.
They might be pricey, but giraffes hold a special place in Dave Eglin’s heart.
“The zoo business is harder than it used to be,” he said.
There are all kinds of federal and state regulations. Feed is expensive — roughly $1,000 every week for grain, nearly as much for hay. Those bills keep coming all year, not just during the three-month money-making season.
Plus, kids have smartphones now. They’re less interested in exotic animals, according to Dave.
“When we started this place 20 years ago, there were zoos all over the place,” he said, listing half a dozen facilities that have since closed. “Now the nearest one is in Utica.”
The giraffes, he said, carried him through. The towering animals are his main draw.
“People used to drive three hours to go to one of those little zoos,” he said. “There would be a few chickens, a llama, maybe a zebra. If there are giraffes, that’s a whole other level.”
Autumn will likely be sold to another zoo in the near future. Dave said she’ll draw roughly $60,000 — a price that will cover a winter’s feed for the creatures of Animal Land and little more.