It’s been more than a week since Julius Longfellow, Zoo Boise’s gregarious giraffe, had to be euthanized. A necropsy has shed more light on what led to the animal’s death.
An initial release from the zoo speculated that Julius had suffered a fall early in the morning of Thursday, April 13. When zoo staff found him, they were unable to rouse him back to his feet.
Zoo Director Steve Burns said the 11-year-old giraffe had torn his infraspinatus muscle, a thick shoulder muscle.
Burns said the zoo’s vet believes Julius was injured as he settled down to sleep. Almost like gangly housecats, giraffes will tuck their legs underneath their bodies in a move known as “cushing.” However, the giraffe’s long legs mean some acrobatics are required to reach the ground. Once Julius was injured, he couldn’t get back up, Burns said.
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The decision to euthanize one of the zoo’s animals is always a difficult one, Burns said, and euthanizing perhaps the best-known animal at Zoo Boise was even more difficult. In Julius’ case, the zoo had no choice, Burns said. Not only would it be difficult to stabilize a giraffe with such a shoulder injury, but staff weren’t even able to move Julius to a position that would be suitable for recovery.
“I don’t want the animal to lose its dignity,” Burns said. “It’s better to remember the animal in all its beauty and grace and elegance.”
He said Julius will be sorely missed, not just by zoo staff that worked with him each day, but by the community.
“He lived here, but he was the community’s giraffe,” Burns said.
And the community has grieved his loss, sending condolences, memories and personal photos to Zoo Boise and its staff. Burns said it’s not unusual for families to come to the zoo to have their own private memorial for favorite animals that have died.
The loss of Julius is also a loss for contributions to the zoo’s conservation funds, its main mission. Zoo visitors could pay to feed Julius and his companion, Jabari, and the funds went to a conservation effort at Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. Julius, the friendlier of the two giraffes, was often the star of that experience.
“That giraffe, he generated more than $200,000 for wildlife conservation in the last eight years,” Burns said. “A lot of animals in Gorongosa are alive and thriving thanks to not only the people who came to the zoo, but Julius himself. Julius did more than his fair share.”
When zoo animals die
The zoo has lost several high-profile animals in the past year due to old age and cancer. Navigating illness in zoo animals is a challenge in and of itself, Burns said.
“It’s not like your cat or dog,” he explained.
Early this year, the zoo’s male lion was euthanized after being treated for lymphoma. Burns said the lion was given chemotherapy and other treatments orally, but eventually he simply stopped eating. Unlike a human or a small family pet, it wasn’t feasible to give the lion IV chemotherapy, and repeated bouts of anesthesia would’ve taken a toll on his health.
“People don’t think about the fact that these animals get sick and they die,” Burns said.
When the zoo’s animals do eventually die, Burns said, there are two ways to handle their bodies. Zoo Boise has space for in-house necropsies (the animal equivalent of an autopsy) for its smaller animals. Under normal circumstances, the bodies of large animals are sent to the state’s wildlife lab, which has more room for necropsies and, later, cremation. Getting the animals to that facility can require a team of several people or, in the case of very large animals, machinery like a forklift, Burns said.
But right now, the lab is closed due to flooding, city spokesman Mike Journee said. Julius was buried on city property, he said.
In addition, the zoo will take tissue and blood samples to further understand how the animal died. If the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Zoo Boise’s accreditation body, is conducting a study on that species, the zoo will sometimes contribute to that research.
A social species
So where does that leave the zoo’s remaining giraffe, 7-year-old Jabari? Burns said giraffes are social animals, and Zoo Boise has already contacted the people in charge of transferring animals between AZA-accredited zoos to find a companion for Jabari.
Ideally, Burns said, that would mean an adult female to create a breeding pair with Jabari. (Though some Boiseans expressed their hope that famously pregnant giraffe April’s offspring would head to Zoo Boise, Burns said that’s not likely. Not only does April’s baby need to spend time with its mother, the upstate New York zoo where April lives is not AZA-accredited.)
Burns hopes to have a new giraffe by early summer, as it becomes too hot to transport the animals in the summer’s later months. That decision, however, depends on many different moving parts, including when and where giraffes were born at other AZA zoos.
Whatever the case, Burns said, Zoo Boise will continue to move forward. Its next project involves a 1.5-acre expansion that will bring a bit of Gorongosa to Boise, as well as the chance for zoo visitors to continue funding the African conservation site.
Where: 355 Julia Davis Drive, in Julia Davis Park
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. through May (opens at 9 a.m. June-August); last admission is at 4:30 p.m.
Admission (through April): adults (ages 12-61) $7, seniors (62 and up) $4.50, children (3-11) $4.25, kids 2 and under free. Summer rates take effect in May.
Every Thursday is discount admission day: adults $4.25, seniors $4.25, children $3
Mother’s Day Brunch
Zoo Boise hosts a number of events throughout the year. The annual Mother’s Day Brunch is 9-10 a.m. Sunday, May 14. Reservations are required and include zoo admission for the rest of the day. Cost: adults $29 (annual pass holders) and $34 (non-annual pass holders); children ages 3-11 $16 (annual pass holders) and $19 (non-annual pass holders); children 2 and under free.
To make reservations or for more information, visit zooboise.org.