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Rare gazelle at Indy Zoo gets unique upbringing

April 3, 2018

Getting a pet is a great way to learn responsibility. You feed it, you play with it, you try to teach it not to use your shoes as a toilet. But raising a newborn animal in a species that’s already critically endangered in the wild? That’s some high-stakes babysitting.

It’s exactly the responsibility the Indianapolis Zoo took on with Carina, a rare addra gazelle. When Carina was born in fall of 2017, zoo staff noticed that her mother was near her in the same area, but something was off.

“We kept Carina and her mother together for six hours after the birth to give mom and baby a chance to bond,” said Indianapolis Zoo Senior Plains Keeper Laura Balok. That’s when the mother is supposed to give the baby the colostrum, that first round of nursing that’s rich in antibodies and vital to the baby’s immune system.

“Her mother continued to ignore Carina and didn’t allow her to nurse,” Balok said, “so we decided to intervene.”

Indianapolis Zoo released this video chronicling their keepers’ time acting as Carina’s de facto mothers. They fed her and kept watch over the crucial first bit of Carina’s life.

Balok said the separation of Carina from the rest of the herd didn’t last long, only a few days, just long enough that they could make sure she was bottle feeding reliably. Then the keepers started reintroducing her to the other addra gazelles.

“Even though she looked to her keepers for food and comfort, her instincts allowed her to easily integrate back,” Balok said. “Luckily gazelles are naturally comfortable with other gazelles – safety in numbers!”

In the weeks that followed, the keepers had Carina spend more and more time with the rest of the herd. She was learning to act more like a gazelle.

“She still has a comfort level with us that the other addra don’t have, but she is happy to stay with them,” Balok said.

While those first hours surrounding Carina’s birth sound heartbreaking, she’s an incredibly fortunate animal. Had the same thing happened out in the wild, Balok says she most likely would have been eaten by a predator.

According to the Maryland Zoo, addra gazelles are a staple in the diets of many large carnivores. They’re eaten by lions, leopards, hyenas, cheetahs and even humans. But the food chain isn’t their only enemy. The species has almost gone extinct because of poaching and overhunting; and much of their habitat, arid areas in the Sahara Desert, has been destroyed by natural desertification and overgrazing of domestic livestock.

And according to Great Big Story, some estimates show their population at less than 300 in the wild.

Balok says people can help by supporting the Indianapolis Zoo and the work they’re doing with the addra, as well as contributing to other conservation organizations.

If you want to check up on Carina and the rest of her herd, you can head to the Indianapolis Zoo website to plan a visit.

WATCH: A Moment of Science takes a field trip to the Indianapolis Zoo in "Wild Science"