Christy Belcher wrapped her arms around the newborn giraffe much like she did a foal during her field training at Clemson. Belcher had arrived at the Greenville Zoo early Feb. 2 after receiving a 5 a.m. phone call. Initially, she ignored the call, thinking she was hitting snooze on her alarm. The phone rang again. She sprang awake, now realizing what was happening. The zoo’s female giraffe, Autumn, was giving birth to her third calf.
Adrenaline racing, Belcher hurried through the dark and fog to the downtown Greenville Zoo. When she arrived, Autumn was standing in her stall, in the early stages of labor. Tatu, a boy, was born at 6:16 a.m.
“Those few moments of watching for the baby to take its first breath seemed like an eternity to me,” Belcher said. “Once I saw it breathing I felt much better about it.”
Tatu was standing within an hour.
“We’ve had a lot of sleepless nights, but it’s well worth it,” Belcher said.
A 2003 graduate of Clemson’s Animal and Veterinary Sciences program, Belcher has been a veterinarian at the Greenville Zoo since 2009. An Easley native, she was always fond of animals. As a child, she would sneak turtles and snakes into her home against her mother’s wishes.
Belcher’s training with livestock on the research farms at Clemson would serve her well as she transitioned to a career working with the 350 exotic animals at the Greenville Zoo.
“The giraffes receive the same vaccines that we use in horses and cows,” she said. “The vaccine that my cat at home gets is the same rabies vaccine that our leopards and lions get.”
After Clemson, Belcher studied in the Caribbean and at North Carolina State University and Texas A&M University. At the Greenville Zoo, Belcher helped design the first Winter Zoo Vet Camp and collaborated with Clemson’s Animal and Veterinary Science department to design a pre-veterinary science summer internship eligible for college credit.
“Everyone asks me, ‘How do you know how to work on a giraffe?’ It really did start with my training and education at Clemson, just being out on the farms with the horses, with the cows, with the goats and the sheep,” Belcher said. “I like to tell people to always embrace the education [you] are getting at Clemson because you never know what that’s going to prepare you for.”