Msituni the giraffe is getting around on her own legs, thanks to a very special pair of custom-made braces
When Msituni was born at the San Diego Zoo safari park, her one front leg was bending in the wrong direction, which caused her to put too much pressure on her other front leg and her joints.
Dr Matt Kinney, the veterinarian in charge of Msituni, knew she needed braces to support her legs. He tried braces made for people, which he adjusted for her long legs, and they helped, but they didn't last and weren't a long-term solution.
The park contacted Hanger Clinic, which specialises in making prosthetics for humans and until now had only made one animal prosthetic: a tail for a dolphin.
Ara Mirzaian and his team from Hanger measured Msituni’s legs and made models of them to create carbon graphite braces for her.
Ara fitted the calf with specialised hoof extenders while the braces were being built. The hoof extenders also helped support her back, which was weakened too, and helped support her then 55kg body mass.
Her customised braces – decorated with distinct spots – were ready eight days later.
“We put on the giraffe pattern just to make it fun,” Ari says.
“We do this with kids all the time. They get to pick superheroes, or their favourite sports team, and we imprint it for them. So why not do it with a giraffe?”
Msituni spent 39 day in her braces before being released into the park to rejoin her herd. Her mother didn't take her back but luckily another female giraffe adopted her.
“We're so glad to have the resources and expertise to step in and provide this young calf the opportunity for a full life,” says Dr Kinney, adding that without the braces, Msituni's condition would've deteriorated quickly.
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“I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment,” Ara says.
“I’ve never worked with wildlife before – it’s one of those things that's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and you just have to savour the moment.”
To help her legs grow strong, Msituni is bottle-fed 10.5 litres of milk three times a day, until she's nine to 12 months old and tall enough to feed off branches herself.