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Reid Park Zoo giraffe 'Watoto' dies after eating oleander

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Reid Park Zoo giraffe 'Watoto' dies after eating oleander

  • One of Reid Park Zoo's giraffes in 2010.
    hmmlargeart/FlickrOne of Reid Park Zoo's giraffes in 2010.
  • One of Reid Park Zoo's giraffes in 2010.
    purpcheese/FlickrOne of Reid Park Zoo's giraffes in 2010.
  • Three of Reid Park Zoo's giraffes in 2009.
    kretyen/FlickrThree of Reid Park Zoo's giraffes in 2009.

The only male giraffe at the Reid Park Zoo, Watoto, died Tuesday evening, zoo officials said.

It's thought that Watoto accidentally ate oleander trimmings, which are toxic to many animals.

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

"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 zoo said in a press release.

From the zoo:

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.

Two giraffes were exposed to the oleander, but only Watoto became sick Tuesday. "The other giraffe remains under careful observation and veterinary care," the zoo said.

Watoto, who would have turned 6 years old on Aug. 11, "was a staff favorite," said the Tucson zoo's curator of education, Vivian VanPeenen.

Male giraffes can live to be 11-18 years old, VanPeenen said, while females live slightly longer, sometimes into their early '20s.

The zoo has 3 female giraffes, named Elinor, Denver and Texas, she said.

"We have no idea yet" whether the zoo will seek to replace Watoto with another male, she said.

"We'll work in consultation with our colleague zoos to determine what the best course is," VanPeenan said.

The zoo's feeding protocal and handling of vegetation trimmings will be reviewed, the zoo said in a press release.

"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," Basford said.

Watoto, whose name means "children" in Swahili, had been at Reid Park since he was two years old. He was born at the San Diego Wild Animal Park in 2005.

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