Zoo News

Another baby giraffe dies at the Dallas Zoo during routine exam

Another baby giraffe dies at the Dallas Zoo during routine exam

Witten baby giraffe
A giraffe named for a football player. Photo courtesy of Dallas Zoo

Another animal has died at the Dallas Zoo — this time a one-year-old giraffe who died during what the zoo calls a routine physical exam.

"We are devastated to share that our one-year-old giraffe Witten passed away this morning," the zoo tweeted. "He was receiving a routine physical exam under anesthesia when he suddenly stopped breathing. An urgent attempt was made to resuscitate him, without success."

"Our expert veterinary staff and giraffe zoologists have performed these physical exams many times in the past without incident, but for humans and animals alike, there is always a risk associated with anesthesia and some animals react differently."

Born in April 2018, the baby giraffe was named Witten, after Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten. Naming animals is a big attention-getter for zoos.

Dallas Zoo President and CEO Gregg Hudson said the zoo was shifting from its "tradition" of naming a baby animal after its native heritage and instead honoring "a Texas legend and all around great guy," and that their zookeepers were the first ones "to jump on this naming opportunity."

Witten is the second baby giraffe that has died under the Dallas Zoo's care. In 2015, a giraffe named Kipenzi died after running into the wall of her enclosure. The zoo called that death a "fluke."

When Witten was born, the zoo devoted attention to the status of his mother Chrystal with a blog post that detailed the birth, calling her an "attentive mother" and Witten's "mom."

In death, the zoo's tweets focus on the impact on the staff, tweeting, "As you can imagine, our zoologists are very close to the animals they care for and are heartbroken."

No word on how the death of another baby might affect "mom" Chrystal.

Some animal advocates question why it would be necessary to put a baby giraffe under anesthesia for a routine exam.

"Wild animals can be trained with positive reinforcement to tolerate touch and even entering restraint devices," says Annamarie Alteri, who has worked as a keeper at a small zoo in Northern California and at exotic animal sanctuaries. "A basic exam and blood draw could be done in a chute, so you have to wonder what the urgency was that they decided on a knockdown."

A young elephant — one of the 18 wild elephants taken from Swaziland in 2016 by the Dallas Zoo and two other zoos — died in 2017 at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, following a similar sedation procedure.

"Anesthesia requires great care even with commonly anesthetized domestic species, and one would think it would be a last resort with exotic megafauna who are much trickier to anesthetize safely," Alteri says.

Other recent animal deaths at the Dallas Zoo have included Adhama, a baby hippopotamus that mysteriously died in 2018; Kamau, the young cheetah that died of pneumonia in 2014; and Johari, the female lion that was killed in front of zoo spectators in 2013.

The Dallas Zoo made the 2018 list of the "10 Worst Zoos For Elephants in North America," compiled by California-based advocacy group In Defense of Animals, for its leadership role in removing 18 juvenile elephants from their families in Swaziland, amid condemnation from conservationists around the world.