For the past 15 months, zoologist Allysa Swilley watched as April, a giraffe in her care, advanced through various stages of pregnancy.
Things were going quietly until about four weeks ago, when Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, N.Y., where April lives, decided to post a live video stream - www.aprilthegiraffe.com/ - depicting her pregnancy.
What was anticipated as a local event viewed by a few thousand people, quickly turned into a literal global phenomena as millions across the world have tuned in to Animal Adventure Park’s website hoping to be there when April gives birth to what will be her fourth calf.
“Honestly, it’s a little overwhelming,” Swilley said about all the attention April’s pregnancy has been generating. “I take care of animals to the best of my ability, and what’s been happening has really blown me away.”
Swilley, who grew up on a dairy farm in Mehoopany, said she is pleased with all the publicity, because it provides her and others at Animal Adventure Park the opportunity to educate the public not only about giraffes, but other animals as well.
“I’ve always been interested in animals,” Swilley said when asked about her chosen field. “Whenever we watched ‘Animal Planet,’ whatever animal was on the screen I wanted one.”
Swilley’s interest in animals solidified while she was attending Tunkhannock Area High School.
“It changed my life,” Swilley said about taking a class with science teacher Maria O’Boyle. “I became even more curious about animals, and wanted to know more to make a difference. She became an outlet for me.”
Upon graduation from Tunkhannock in 2011, Swilley attended the State University of New York at Oswego, obtaining her degree in zoology in 2015.
Three days later, in May, she was hired by Animal Adventure Park.
“I’m the lead zoologist, that’s my official title,” Swilley explained. “I’m also the lead giraffe keeper.”
Swilley first got to know Oliver, the calf’s father.
April arrived at the park in September, and Swilley began overseeing her care as well.
All through April’s pregnancy, Swilley has worked closely with her charge - feeding, her, cleaning up after her and assisting the veterinarian.
Swilley emphasized that she oversees the care of all the animals at Animal Adventure Park.
Among the 200 species listed on the park’s website include Arctic wolves, a dromedary camel, an African warthog, Indian peacocks, and an American alligator.
“I’m a jack-of-all trades,” Swilley explained about her duties.
She said she’s always been interested in working with carnivores which is a very high profile type of species.
But working with Oliver and April, she’s developed a love of giraffes as well.
Shortly after April arrived at Animal Adventure Park, Swilley said they suspected she would soon be pregnant because they caught her and Oliver “doing it” a couple of times.
Swilley’s suspicions were confirmed a short time later.
“I was feeling her stomach,” Swilley explained. “And suddenly, I definitely knew she was going to have a baby.”
The period of conception to birth for a giraffe is about 15 months, and Swilley has continually monitored April the entire time.
“While I’m watching the monitor, I read emails from people, telling me they’ve been watching her for two weeks, or watching her for a month. Well I’ve been watching April for 15 months,” she said with a laugh.
Although she’s never delivered a baby giraffe, Swilley said she has helped deliver calves when she was growing up on the dairy farm, and the process is not very different between the two species. She said they intend to allow April to deliver her calf naturally, only intervening if necessary.
Once the calf is delivered, she said, Animal Adventure Park will leave the live feed up for about five days. People will be able to access the video via facebook and youtube. Then it will be taken off-line.
“Then we’ll be ready for things to get back to normal,” Swilley explained, saying that she and another staff member Corey Ewyer have been watching April constantly for the past several weeks, ready at a moment’s notice when she goes into labor.
Caring for April and becoming part of her life has been a deeply touching experience for her, Swilley said.
She explained that spending so much time with April has caused the giraffe to think of her as part of the ‘herd.’
April would not allow a stranger to touch her stomach or come close the way she does, Swilley explained.
“I’m just kind of hanging in there,” Swilley said when asked about her future plans. “I’m really glad for this opportunity to educate the public about animals, as well as the opportunity to work with such a great team of people. We do a lot of things that are sometimes stressful, but it’s always rewarding.”
To watch the live video stream of April, visit http://www.aprilthegiraffe.com/.