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Bright's Zoo waits for news on cause of baby giraffe's death

August 21st, 2014 9:47 pm by Max Hrenda

Bright's Zoo waits for news on cause of baby giraffe's death

The staff of Bright's Zoo is waiting for the results of a necropsy to determine what caused the death of Patch, a 13-day-old reticulated giraffe that died on Wednesday evening. (Contributed)

Less than two weeks after its birth at a local zoo, a baby reticulated giraffe has died.

On Wednesday night, the staff of Bright’s Zoo announced via social media that the giraffe calf, which was born Aug. 7, died of unknown causes earlier that evening.

The giraffe’s body was given to the University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center in Knoxville to undergo a necropsy, or, autopsy, which is expected to conclude this week. In an interview on Thursday, Zoo Director David Bright said not knowing the giraffe’s cause of death was one of the harder things for him and his staff to endure.

“When something like this happens, you start going back and questioning things,” Bright said. “Did we miss something? Was there something we could have done differently? You’re always going to have that in your head until you get those (necropsy) results.”

As for the giraffe’s death, Bright said he and his staff were “devastated” by the loss.

“Most of the staff would like to tell you that we’re kind of trained to not let things affect us ... but that’s never the truth,” he said. “You’re always affected by any loss at a zoo, especially something as iconic as a baby giraffe.”

Bright added the suddenness of the giraffe’s death also contributed to the shock felt by zoo staff. He said that earlier in the day, the giraffe exhibited no signs of any illness or injury, though he did spend an unusually long time inside the giraffe barn.

“Our thought process was he was being pretty smart; he was hanging out in the barn to stay cool,” Bright said. “We went to the barn to check on him, and he was alert. At 5 o’clock, everything was fine.”

Two hours later, however, when Bright and zookeepers were performing their evening checks, they noticed something was wrong with the baby.

“Normally when we go in, we talk to him and he raises his head up, and most times, he’ll get up,” Bright said. “Last night when we went in the barn and talked to him, he didn’t even raise his head up.

“Then we started to check him. Normally ... the body temperature on a giraffe is about 100 degrees. He felt not a whole, whole lot cooler than that, but a lot cooler than we were liking.”

Zoo staff then contacted two emergency veterinarians — Johnson City-based Mountain Empire Animal Hospital and the University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center in Knoxville. For the next 40 minutes, zoo staff tended to the giraffe with liquids and warming blankets as emergency veterinarians from Mountain Empire made their way to the zoo.

At around the time those vets arrived at the zoo, however, the giraffe had died. Despite the close proximity of the vets’ arrival and the giraffe’s death, Bright said he was told the end result would have remained the same.

“UT told us (that) even if the vet had gotten there at the same time we did, more than likely, it wouldn’t have changed the outcome,” Bright said. “They might have prolonged it for a few more minutes. The overall outcome would have, more than likely, remained the same.”

Though the giraffe’s death may have been inevitable, for the zoo community, it is no less painful. That pain is also felt by Valerie, the calf’s 6-year-old mother, Bright said.

“You can tell that she’s somewhat depressed,” he said. “She has (gone) to the barn several times looking to see if he’s still in there. But as far as her overall behavior, she seems fairly normal.”

As for the zoo staff, while the loss of their latest addition hurts, the outpouring of support they’ve received from the community has provided a measure of comfort.

“I was probably up to 2 or 3 (a.m.) just reading Facebook comments on our site,” Bright said. “First thing (Thursday) morning, I got up and did the same thing. It was impressive to us to see how many people that follow us offered condolences. It hit them hard, as well.”

Among those hardest hit may have been Kim Reece, who won the zoo’s social media contest to name the baby with the suggestion “Patch.”

“She was very upset on the phone,” Bright said. “She never wins anything and was so looking forward ... to coming and seeing it. It was bittersweet.”

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