SAN DIEGO – A baby giraffe is getting a little extra pep in her step thanks to doctors at the San Diego Zoo.
Three-month-old Msituni – which means "in the forest" in Swahili – is now skipping around with a new lease with the help of a custom leg brace to correct abnormalities that threatened her survival.
The specialized giraffe-patterned orthotic braces attach to her front legs to help correct a hyperextension of the carpi, bones that are equivalent to those in the human wrist.
This disorder had caused the giraffe’s front legs to bend improperly and made it difficult for her to stand and walk.
"We are so glad to have the resources and expertise to step in and provide this young calf the opportunity for a full life," said Dr. Matt Kinney, senior veterinarian at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. "Without these lifesaving braces to provide support, the position of her legs would have become increasingly more painful and progressed to a point she would not have been able to overcome."
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The braces were crafted by Hanger Clinic, a local clinic that typically makes prosthetics for humans. They were able to fabricate the custom-molded carbon graphite orthotic braces by using cast moldings of the calf’s legs and fit Msituni with her new devices, complete with a giraffe pattern to provide a natural look.
"I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment," said Ara Mirzaian, certified orthotist at Hanger Clinic. "I’ve never worked with wildlife before – it’s one of those things that is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and you just have to savor the moment."
The zoo said the braces were a success, and Msituni is now with the rest of her herd in the Safari Park’s 60-acre East Africa savanna habitat.
"This was an important step in Msituni’s natural development," said Kristi Burtis, director of wildlife care at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. "As her bond grows with the herd, she will be able to learn behaviors and skills important to the development of a young giraffe."
Science teams have estimated that fewer than 100,000 giraffes are left in their native habitats – a decrease of more than 40 percent over the last 20 years.
It is believed that the downward trend is due to habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and poaching in certain regions.
"The birth of every animal is a cherished event, and Msituni’s survival in the face of so much adversity makes it all the more remarkable," Kinney said.