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Giraffe's death draws feds
A unit of the Agriculture Department will investigate whether any laws were broken.
Samburu, 17, a bull giraffe who is the only member of his species remaining at the Tulsa Zoo, gets a banana Monday from Karen Dunn, the zoo's large-mammal curator. Samburu, known as "Sam," is sequestered in the giraffe barn because of the cold. MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World
By SARA PLUMMER World Staff Writer
Published: 1/12/2010 2:22 AM
Last Modified: 1/12/2010 4:05 AM
Amira, 9, died about 6:20 a.m. Sunday after the zoo's staff worked throughout Saturday and overnight to try to save her, said the zoo's veterinarian, Dr. Kay Backues. The zoo's staff are waiting on laboratory results to find out Amira's cause of death and whether cold weather was a leading factor.
Amira, who came from the Santa Barbara, Calif., Zoo, is the second giraffe to die at the Tulsa Zoo since December. Amali, a 5-year-old female giraffe, died Dec. 3 after she suffered a neck injury during her trip from The Wilds zoo near Cumberland, Ohio.
The department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service began an investigation in November on the care and transport of Amali, said David Sacks, a spokesman for the service.
Both female giraffes were brought to Tulsa to breed with the zoo's only remaining giraffe, Samburu, or Sam, who is 17.
The giraffes had been in their heated 24-foot-tall barn since Christmas because of the extended cold snap. The zoo takes giraffes off exhibit and brings them into their barn when the temperature drops to 40 degrees.
Keepers noticed that Amira was lethargic Saturday morning, but she seemed to get better by the afternoon after supplemental heaters and more hay bedding were added. But by the evening she was having difficulty standing. When she lay down, the veterinary staff began treating
Zoo Director Terrie Correll said the staff covered Amira with an electric blanket and gave her warm-water enemas and warm fluids to drink throughout the night.
"We pulled out all the stops," she said. "We worked through the night with her to see if her condition would improve."
Backues said Amira's body temperature had actually gone up before she died Sunday morning.
"We were all shocked when she died," she said. "I think we did everything we could. We were aggressive in treating her."
Correll said giraffes are one of the zoo animals most susceptible to cold because they are from sub-Saharan Africa.
Backues added: "The way they are built is not to retain heat. They're a large tough animal, but also a delicate animal, a sensitive animal."
A necropsy, or animal autopsy, has been performed and Amira was in good body condition, which means she was well fed and had adequate fat stores and muscle mass, Backues said.
Tissue samples have been sent to a laboratory, and microscope exam results should be back in about a week, she said.
City councilors will discuss the deaths at Tuesday's council committee meeting.
Correll said zoo officials would send a report to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Agriculture Department.
Sacks said the goal of his agency's inspection is not to determine the cause of death.
"Our focus is to see if any violations of the Animal Welfare Act occurred and if those contributed to the animal's death," he said.
An animal's death does not automatically trigger Agriculture Department action, he said.
"It's a sad fact that animals die every day in captivity and in the wild," but when the department finds violations of the Animal Welfare Act, it can take legal action, Sacks said.
Correll said Amira should have adapted to Oklahoma's climate by now, although last week's low temperatures set records. Keeping hot air circulating and a constant temperature throughout a 24-foot-tall building can be a challenge.
She said the staff would evaluate emergency procedures and protocols for arctic conditions to see whether any changes are needed. The giraffes that have been housed in the barn since 1984 have never had issues dealing with cold before. she said. That includes Sam, who went through this latest cold snap without any problems.
"We're just devastated. No one feels the loss more than our staff," Correll said. "It is heart-breaking."
Despite the loss of two giraffes in two months, Correll said, the plan to breed the male giraffe is still on.
"We don't want to leave Sam alone," she said. "We will be looking for a herd mate this spring."
ZOO TIMELINEOct. 8: Amira, a 9-year-old female from Santa Barbara, Calif., arrives in Tulsa.
Oct. 18: Amali, a 5-year-old female from Cumberland, Ohio, arrives in Tulsa with a noticeable crick in her neck.
Nov. 24: Amira goes on display. Amali remains in the barn until the extent of her injury can be determined.
Dec. 3: Amali (right) is sedated so an X-ray of her neck can be taken. She is unable to come out of sedation, and she dies later that day.
Dec. 15: The City Council takes up the issue of Amali’s death by urging the zoo to file an insurance claim against the transport company.
Dec. 16: Mayor Dewey Bartlett asks the city auditor to look into the circumstances surrounding Amali’s fatal injury.
Jan. 9: Zookeepers notice Amira’s lethargic behavior and begin treating her for hypothermia.
Jan. 10: Amira dies. Her cause of death is yet to be determined.
November and December: The Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the U.S. Department of Agriculture look into the care and transport of Amali. The AZA finds no evidence for further investigation and the Agriculture Department begins a focused inspection on the Tulsa Zoo; The Wilds zoo near Cumberland, Ohio; and the transport company, Safari Enterprises Inc.
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