Zahara, a 3-year old Masai giraffe at the Louisville Zoo distinguished by her crooked neck, passed away Monday.
Zahara experienced a series of difficulties since her birth at the Toledo Zoo in August of 2005. In addition to being rejected by her mother, she developed cervical spine instability associated with a possible infection not long after she was born, requiring her to wear a neck support brace.
Before Zahara arrived at the Louisville Zoo on June 26, 2007, as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Population Management Plan (PMP), it was believed her neck condition was static and stable. (PMP is the cooperative animal management program designed to facilitate the population management of select species in captivity. For more information on PMPs, visit .)
But several months ago staff began noticing changes in Zahara's posture and behavior and found her often resting her head on objects. The Louisville Zoo's veterinary team began closely monitoring her neck condition, performed diagnostic testing including X-rays and blood tests, and consulted with multiple specialists to better understand her condition and explore possible treatments. Spinal cord impingement was considered likely.
Just last week an equine veterinary expert was brought in to assess Zahara. He noticed some progress and healing in her neck but concurred that some of her vertebrae appeared unstable and the spinal cord was being pinched. Surgical treatment was considered, but was not pursued because the risk was considered far greater than any potential benefit. The Zoo's veterinary team continued to monitor Zahara to see if her neck might heal over time, but then Monday keeper staff found her lying on her side in her stall and unable to stand. Zoo staff made several attempts to help her to her feet but were unsuccessful. The decision was then made to humanely euthanize her.
Necropsy results showed that Zahara did indeed have a localized narrowing of the cervical spinal canal and pinching of the spinal cord as previously diagnosed.
Louisville Zoo Assistant Mammal Curator Candy McMahan said Zahara will be remembered as a loveable character.
"She loved to nuzzle keeper staff," McMahan said. "She was a true sweetheart."
There are currently threeMasai giraffes as the Louisville Zoo-Walker, a 14-year-old male who recently arrived from Cleveland Metroparks Zoo; Malaika, an 11 -year-old female; and Mariah, a 21-year-old female. Bo, the Louisville Zoo's 3-year-old hand-raised giraffe, was recently relocated to Racine Zoo in Wisconsin.