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Reid Park Zoo's giraffe 'Elinor' dies at 20 years old

Elinor, a two-decade old giraffe — the shyest of the spotted animals at Tucson's zoo — died Monday after suffering breathing problems. Zoo officials called her "beloved."

The reticulated giraffe, featuring large chestnut patches of fur separated by thin white lines, had spent nine years at the Reid Park Zoo. Officials said Elinor was easily recognizable because her spots "had spots within them."

She died on Labor Day, a day after first showing "signs of respiratory distress," officials said. Despite treatment, the giraffe died.

"Elinor has not had a history of breathing problems in the past," the zoo said. "Her necropsy (animal autopsy) at the University of Arizona Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory will reveal more. It will take several weeks to get all the results back and will be Elinor's final contribution to her species' survival."

"Elinor was the shyest of the zoo's giraffes and would often follow Denver, the other female giraffe," officials said in a news release. "When she initially arrived at the zoo, Elinor was wary to participate at the giraffe feeding platform, but over time she became confident around guests and welcomed carrots from them."

The giraffe was born at the Knoxville Zoological Gardens in May 1999. She was dubbed "Elinor" when she arrived in Tucson, after the zoo held a contest to pick a name.

The median life expectancy of giraffes like Elinor is 19 years, official said.

Elinor lived at the Tucson zoo with two other giraffes: Jasiri, an 8-year-old male, and Denver, a 30-year-old female who is the second oldest giraffe in the United States. Another giraffe at the zoo, Watoto, died in July 2011 after eating oleander trimmings which had been mistakenly mixed into his food. The plant is toxic to many animals.

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"Elinor was a beloved member of Reid Park Zoo," officials said. "Our thoughts are with everyone who loved Elinor, particularly her keepers and those who visited her at the giraffe feeding platform, who are sure to feel her loss deeply."

Giraffes are listed as a vulnerable species and less than 70,000 animals remain in the wild. Reticulated giraffes like Elinor are mostly found in Kenya.

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