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Jimmie, believed to be world’s oldest male giraffe, dies at Maryland’s Plumpton Park Zoo at 26

Jimmie, a giraffe who has been the star attraction at the Plumpton Park Zoo in Rising Sun for a quarter-century, has died, ending an era at the popular Cecil County attraction and the life of an animal believed to have been the oldest living male of his species.

The 3,000-pound creature was 26½ — more than eight years older than the average life span of a reticulated giraffe — when he was euthanized Thursday after chronic degenerative leg and hoof disorders worsened in recent months.

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The zoo’s operators, Nick and Cheryl Lacovara, consulted zoo veterinarians across the United States, as well as in Africa and Canada, as they sought to help Jimmie deal with a condition that had left him in a state of nearly constant pain. They put Jimmie into palliative care — a circumstance they described as the veterinary equivalent of hospice — last month as they continued searching for a Hail Mary solution.

The professionals involved came to the unanimous conclusion in recent days that “it was time to end the progression of [Jimmie’s] discomfort,” Nick Lacovara wrote in a news release Thursday night.

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The Plumpton Park Zoo's Jimmie, a 26-year-old giraffe, ate tree leaves held July 26, 2021, by Nick Lacovara. Lacovara and his wife, Cheryl Lacovara, run the Rising Sun zoo.
The Plumpton Park Zoo's Jimmie, a 26-year-old giraffe, ate tree leaves held July 26, 2021, by Nick Lacovara. Lacovara and his wife, Cheryl Lacovara, run the Rising Sun zoo. (Kenneth K. Lam)

The mood at the zoo was somber Friday, he said, as staffers mourned the loss of a gentle beast most had come to consider a family member.

“I don’t know if that’s right or wrong, but that’s the way a lot of people here feel,” Nick Lacovara said. “I know Cheryl does. Several of the zookeepers and a lot of the board members feel that way.”

Jimmie was born in 1995 at the Phoenix Zoo in Arizona, and was moved to the Plumpton Park facility about a year later. Owned at the time by its founder, the artist, business owner and animal lover Edward C. Plumstead, the zoo quickly made Jimmie one of its draws, and he remained a mainstay.

Over the years, though, an aging Plumstead fell into ill health, and providing the right kind of care for Jimmie and others in the menagerie proved too much for a succession of less-than-experienced managers. By the time the Lacovaras took over the foundering Plumpton Park Zoological Gardens Inc. in 2010, one of the giraffe’s hoofs had been neglected for so long it had curled into his leg, requiring a five-hour operation.

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His slow recovery paralleled the zoo’s return to life under new leadership. The Lacovaras spearheaded a fundraising drive that brought a state-of-the art giraffe center to the zoo, expert veterinary care improved his condition, and the addition of a female giraffe, Annabelle, in 2018, bolstered his spirits.

Guests stood in line to feed Jimmie his favorite snack, bamboo leaves, and donations from that activity added up to more than $10,000 per year, half of which the Lacovaras donated to giraffe conservation.

Nick Lacovara said the international network of those who keep, raise, conserve and study giraffes is so well connected that it’s possible to compare such matters as the animals’ ages. He said the consensus was that after Kimbar, a bull giraffe at the Vienna Zoo in Austria, died at nearly 28 this year, Jimmie took over the title of oldest living male giraffe in the world.

It wasn’t just zoo personnel who felt his loss. The Plumpton Park Zoo’s Facebook page overflowed with expressions of thanks and condolences, not to mention photos of guests posing with the giraffe over the years.

Tests taken recently reveal that Jimmie was unable to fulfill one goal the owners hoped he might — impregnating Annabelle. But they’ve begun a search for a new mate for the 7-year-old female and are raising the tens of thousands of dollars it will take.

In the meantime, zoo personnel say they’ll be processing the loss of a longtime friend.

“We have so many other animals to care for, and they’re important, too,” Nick Lacovara said. “We’re going to have to move on. That’s the hard part.”

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