ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Tail held aside? Check. Udders filled? Check. Swelling backside? Check. April the Giraffe shows every sign she'll soon deliver her calf, to the delight of an enthralled YouTube audience.
"April is eating, eating, eating and eating," Jordan Patch, owner of Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, New York, said Tuesday afternoon. "We continue to sit and wait. The physical development and signs suggest we are there, it's just a matter of when."
Since Patch announced in a March 6 Facebook post that the delivery was imminent, tens of thousands of fans have been tuned into April's livestream , posting a constant stream of comments and observations. It's a replay of 2017, when April drew more than 232 million YouTube live views during the seven weeks leading up to the birth of Tajiri, her fifth calf.
This time, Patch doesn't expect the suspense to stretch out so long. "If we hit April 1, I'll be absolutely shocked, based on the observations we're seeing in house," he said.
When he started livestreaming April's pregnancy in 2017, Patch never expected to draw worldwide attention to his small zoo 130 miles (209 kilometers) northwest of New York City.
"We were helping our local fan base tune in," Patch said. "Then it grew to what it became, and we were no longer just informing a small population, we were educating a world of interested parties."
At any given moment, 50,000 to 60,000 people are watching the livestream and discussing giraffes, Patch said. That "is bringing awareness to the cause, which is conservation," he said. Giraffe numbers in Africa have plunged by 40 percent over the last 30 years, leaving fewer than 100,000 today, according to the nonprofit Giraffe Conservation Foundation.
Not everyone is celebrating, however. "Another giraffe calf will be born into captivity, doomed to spend his or her life in confinement, all for one roadside zoo's desire for internet fame and profit," blogger Katherine Sullivan wrote on People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' website in July.
Patch bristles at suggestions the giraffe cam is motivated by money.
"The entire event is free to the world," he said. "No one has to pay a cent to participate here. But people are so compelled and moved that they want to support what's happening."
Some of the most ardent April fans are people coping with illness who see the livestream and convivial chat as a welcome distraction. Penina Scullion of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, commented on Animal Adventure Park's Facebook page that she and her dying 21-year-old daughter Julia watched avidly from the hospital as April gave birth in 2017. This time, she's watching alone.
"Bittersweet calf watch for me, but wishing the best for April and her calf," Scullion wrote. "Hey, if it's a girl, consider Julia for her name?"