Credit: San Diego Zoo Safari Park

A 16-day-old male Masai giraffe and his mother were released into the San Diego Zoo Safari Park's South Africa exhibit this week. The lanky youngster was cautious when keepers first opened the gate into the field exhibit, but it didn't take long for him to acclimate to his new surroundings as he followed his mother to meet the rest of the giraffe herd, which includes his three-week-old half-brother.

The calf, named Gowon (pronounced Go-wan), Masai for maker of rain, was born on July 31 to mother Genny in a protected area, where the two remained until today, when animal care staff felt Gowon was strong enough to venture into the larger space and meet the herd.

His older brother, Kamau (pronounced Kam-mao), whose name means little warrior in Masai, was born on July 26 and was released into the field with his mother last week.

Gowon stayed close to his mother at first but quickly engaged in some playful behavior, kicking his strong, long legs and running around with his new playmate, Kamau. The adult giraffes checked out the youngster, greeting him with sniffs, nose-rubbing and nuzzles.

The births of Gowon and Kamau mark the first time Masai giraffes have been born at the Safari Park. Their sire, Hodari, was born at the San Diego Zoo and moved to the Safari Park two years ago to start a Masai giraffe breeding program.

Masai giraffes, also known as Kilimanjaro giraffes, are the world's tallest land animals and are native to Kenya and Tanzania. At birth, giraffe calves stand at least six feet tall and weigh 150 to 200 pounds. When full grown, the Masai giraffe males can be as tall as 19 feet and weigh between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds.

Masai giraffes are the most populous of the giraffe subspecies, but all giraffe populations have decreased from approximately 140,000 in the late 1990s to less than 80,000 because of habitat loss and competition with livestock for resources. As a result, the future of giraffes is dependent on the quality of habitat that remains. San Diego Zoo Global supports community conservation efforts in Kenya and Uganda that are finding ways for people and wildlife to live together.

Visitors to the Safari Park may see the two young calves with their herd while taking an Africa Tram tour. The Safari Park is now home to eight Masai giraffes: five males and three females.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global.

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