Second giraffe dies at Baltimore zoo this year

A second giraffe at the Maryland Zoo has died, officials there said Wednesday.

The 5-year-old female named Juma died overnight at the Baltimore zoo. Officials blamed an as-yet undetermined illness.


“This has been a year of ups and downs with our giraffe herd,” said Donald P. Hutchinson, president and CEO of the zoo.

A male calf named Julius was euthanized in July after zoo staff determined he was not improving from health problems he had suffered since birth. A necropsy revealed lesions on the left side of his brain that caused nerve damage that crippled his tongue and prevented him from suckling.


Juma began experiencing gastro-intestinal problems earlier this year, officials said. She was treated by veterinary staff with antibiotics, probiotics and anti-inflammatory medications.

She recovered, but became sick again.

“We were able to treat her intensively and get her gastrointestinal tract moving during both episodes, but she was unable to gain weight after the second bout,” said Dr. Ellen Bronson, the zoo’s director of animal health, conservation and research.

“The Giraffe House team did an amazing job supporting her and encouraging her to consume the grain and hay that made up her primary diet, as well as the browse and produce that were her favorites, and special food items for weight gain,” Bronson said in a statement. “However, she never regained condition and continued to lose weight despite their best efforts.”

The team also tried to provide calcium and other nutritional supplements to treat abnormalities detected in Juma’s recent blood samples.

Bronson said the zoo consulted with veterinarians and nutritionists around the country, and tried extensive treatment regimens, but was not able to improve her condition.

Juma’s death leaves the zoo with four giraffes. Hutchinson said she “will be greatly missed.”

“We are feeling the loss of Juma deeply while knowing that the staff has put their best efforts into caring for her during the past many weeks,” he said.

A necropsy will be conducted, officials said, but they don’t expect results for several weeks. Zoo spokeswoman Jane Ballentine said Juma and Julius’ deaths were “completely unrelated.”

Juma leaves a 9-month-old calf, just the second giraffe born at the zoo in more than two decades. Zoo officials said Willow, a female, had already been weaned for several months and had integrated into the giraffe herd.

“She may initially notice that Juma isn’t there,” said Erin Cantwell, the zoo’s mammal collection and conservation manager. But “she will continue to be with ‘aunties’ Anuli and Kesi and we don’t expect there to be any issues within the herd structure as time passes.”

The global giraffe population has declined nearly 40 percent in the past 30 years. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has placed giraffes on the “red list” of threatened and endangered species worldwide.The organization counted as many as 163,500 giraffes in 1985. Fewer than 98,000 survive today.


About 550 giraffes live in captivity.

The Baltimore zoo lost a zebra, Ayanna, in February. At 21, she was well over the median life expectancy and died of age-related causes, Ballentine said. The zoo lost a 69-year-old tortoise named Sweet Pea to age-related causes in July.

A spokesman for the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, an accrediting organization, said the Baltimore zoo has a strong track record of caring for animals.

“They are a long standing member of AZA, and provide excellent care to their animals,” spokesman Rob Versnon wrote in an email. “The zoo has also been very open and honest about their animals this year, from births to when new animals arrive to when they have to make end-of-life decisions.”

Ballentine said inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates zoos, inspects the zoo twice every year. She said the zoo would provide information about Juma and Julius if the agency requested. But “given the nature of the two very different deaths,” she said, she didn’t anticipate an inquiry.

A USDA spokesman said the agency doesn’t require zoos to notify the department of all animal deaths. He said death records, including the necropsy, are reviewed during regular inspections to determine if there was any noncompliance with the federal Animal Welfare Act.

Ballentine said zookeepers are with the remaining giraffes for much of the day but not at the same level as when they were caring for Juma. They are “certainly keeping an eye on the rest of them,” Ballentine said, adding that none have shown any abnormal behavior. She said the giraffes have been eating normally and spending time outdoors enjoying the warm weather.

On the zoo’s Facebook page, more than 500 people commented on Juma’s death within a few hours of the announcement.

“I am so heartbroken and sad to hear this news. I saw her and Willow on July 15th the day that our sweet boy Julius passed away,” wrote one poster. “I know the Heartbreak is still fresh and this makes it even harder for all of you. My heart prayers and condolences go out to each and everyone of you at the zoo especially the giraffe keepers.”

It’s unclear whether the zoo will get another giraffe. Ballentine said there has been no discussion on the topic yet.

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