Zoo Stunned by Giraffe Death on 7/19/11

Reid Park Zoo is deeply saddened to announce the death of “Watoto,” a male giraffe, who died on the evening of July 19, 2011.

“This is a difficult loss for the Reid Park Zoo family,” states Susan Basford, Zoo Administrator. “This was a horrible and unfortunate accident that resulted in the loss of an animal.  Our staff is broken-hearted.”

Pathologists will conduct a full analysis to determine the official cause of death.  There is reasonable cause to believe the ingestion of toxic vegetation will be confirmed.  A series of unfortunate events may have led to the accidental ingestion of oleander, vegetation toxic to many animals.  It is a typical practice of zoos to feed animals green trimmings from surrounding vegetation and there are standards and protocols in place to ensure the trimmings are safe for the animals.  The actions and circumstances in this case are being thoroughly reviewed to determine what happened and to see if protocols need to be improved to ensure the health and safety of our animals.

Two giraffe were exposed to the substance, but only Watoto displayed symptoms yesterday. The other giraffe remains under careful observation and veterinary care.  Watoto began exhibiting signs of illness mid-day yesterday. He was refusing food and water, choosing to lie down, and generally displaying lethargy, although he remained responsive. His keeper remained by his side all day, keeping him under close observation.  By late afternoon it was clear that he was not improving.

All veterinary reports and advice suggested the situation was grim, and that recovery was not likely. The husbandry team, including Zoo staff and outside zoological experts, stepped in to attempt supportive fluid therapy and the administration of medication to combat the toxicity of the vegetation. The team worked diligently doing everything humanly possible to save the animal; however, during the initial stage of treatment, the giraffe’s heart stopped. After all emergency response options were exhausted he passed away.

Basford states, “Through the regrettable events that occurred, I also witnessed our staff at its best – professionals who care deeply about our animals, and who worked diligently as a team doing everything humanly possible to save an animal in our care.”