A baby giraffe, the first baby animal born on Fresno Chaffee Zoo’s new African Adventure exhibit, died Sunday night during a special viewing for zoo VIPs.
Initial indications are the giraffe died in some type of “physical accident,” said Alisha Anderson, zoo spokeswoman.
Anderson said several people saw the male reticulated giraffe, who weighed 188 pounds when he was born Sept. 9, on the ground, but nobody has been able to say with certainty what happened.
“Guests were really upset,” Anderson said. “Our staff is devastated.”
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Anytime this happens, it’s awful, but especially at such a happy time, that makes it so much worse.
Fresno Chaffee Zoo spokeswoman Alisha Anderson on the death of a baby giraffe the week the zoo is set to open its new African Adventure
The zoo’s pride in the baby giraffe showed Sunday night, she said, when it was first to go out in its new exhibit area.
Several people said they witnessed the giraffe lying on the ground for several minutes before zoo officials could render aid.
Vernon Presley, the zoo’s assistant curator for elephants and hoofed animals, said the delay was because zookeepers needed time to return other animals to their indoor enclosures and ensure the safety of staff members who attended to the baby giraffe.
He said the baby giraffe had been in the outdoors enclosure many times in recent weeks.
Zoo officials say they don’t yet know what caused the giraffe’s death. Presley said the giraffe was not entangled in fencing or anything else, as some witnesses reported seeing.
A necropsy will be conducted to learn more, Anderson said. It normally takes several days.
“Anytime this happens, it’s awful, but especially at such a happy time, that makes it so much worse,” said Anderson, the zoo spokeswoman.
Officials with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals criticized Fresno Chaffee Zoo officials, describing Sunday evening’s event as “a raucous party right next to a group of nervous prey animals.”
The animal-welfare advocates also said the zoo’s top priority was donors not animals, suggesting that other baby giraffes have broken their necks on enclosure walls and criticizing the zoo’s enclosure as too small.
The area with the giraffes and other species is 3 acres and can be converted to 4 acres, zoo officials say.
“I am extremely disappointed that people would feel we put raucous parties and donors in front of animal care,” Presley said. “Any lag time that people interpreted that there was had to do with securing the (other) animals.”
He said he was proud of the speed and manner of the response by zoo staff.
On Monday, he said, the staff was “grief-stricken.”
Anderson said there were 328 people attending Sunday night’s viewing and they were spread throughout the 13-acre portion of the zoo.
“It is doubtful the events of that night contributed to the problem,” Presley said. “If there was loud music and raucous partying going on it would be our team that would be the loudest in seeking to rectify the problem.”
African Adventure opens to the public on Thursday. The $56 million, 13-acre display of the African savanna took 21 months to build. It was paid for with 2004’s Measure Z funding, a countywide one-tenth-of-a-cent sales tax.
Measure Z was reauthorized in November and will result in additional projects on an additional 7 to 8 acres in Roeding Park.