The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is saddened to report the loss of Masai giraffe, Cami, four days after a Cesarean section. Cami, who was monitored around the clock by the zoo’s animal care experts, collapsed at approximately 1 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 8, and was unable to rise. The veterinary team immobilized her to assess her condition and provide fluids, but she passed a short time later. Initial bloodwork suggested acute kidney failure, but a full necropsy will be conducted with pathology results expected in approximately six weeks.
Cesarean sections in giraffes are extremely rare and typically conducted as a last resort during a difficult delivery due to the high risks involved in putting giraffes under anesthesia and successful recovery. There are only three documented reports of a giraffe dam surviving a Cesarean section, none of which occurred in North America.
Cami began to exhibit signs of labor around 3 p.m. on Dec. 4 in a behind-the-scenes area of the Heart of Africa region at the Columbus Zoo. As Cami’s labor progressed, it became evident that the calf was presenting rear hooves first. Giraffe calves are typically born front hooves first, and it is extremely rare for calves to survive after being born rear hooves first.
In order to do everything possible to save both mom and baby, the decision was made to intervene. The zoo’s animal care team, as well as a large animal surgeon from The Ohio State University, attempted to manually extract the calf from Cami without success. They then performed an emergency Cesarean section. After the calf was removed, the veterinary team found that the calf had serious congenital defects and thus would not have survived even if it had been born front hooves first.
Cami, a 6-year-old female Masai giraffe, came to the Columbus Zoo in 2013 from the Nashville Zoo. Father, Enzi, is the 8-year-old breeding male Masai giraffe, and he arrived at the Columbus Zoo in 2013 after first being at The Wilds and the Toledo Zoo, where he was born. The pairing of Enzi with Cami was based on a breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan® (SSP) for giraffes.
The loss of Cami and her calf follows the loss of another Masai giraffe, Zuri’s calf, Ubumwe, who sadly passed away on the morning of Nov. 17. Ubumwe was born on Oct. 30, 2018, and along with Zuri, was monitored around the clock by the animal care team. While regular wellness checks conducted by the animal health team had previously shown that she was growing and developing appropriately, Ubumwe’s behavior and appearance began to change on Nov. 16, and her health suddenly deteriorated. The zoo’s team of animal care professionals responded quickly, and aggressive treatment and diagnostics, including a CT, were performed to rule out potential causes of her gastrointestinal discomfort. Specialists from The Ohio State University were also available to conduct a comprehensive abdominal ultrasound and review the CT images. Despite intensive overnight care and some improvement in her clinical appearance, Ubumwe unfortunately passed away at approximately 8:30 a.m. At this time, the definitive cause of her death is still unknown until a full pathology report is received. However, there is no indication that the cause of Ubumwe’s passing was related to Cami’s health challenges after her difficult delivery and subsequent Cesarean section, or the passing of her calf, who had severe congenital defects. Zuri has returned to the herd and is doing well.
Nineteen giraffes had previously been born at the Columbus Zoo over the course of its history before the arrivals of Cami’s and Zuri’s late calves. The two most recent giraffe births are the first to have occurred in the Heart of Africa region since its opening in 2014. Giraffes typically have a gestation period of around 15 months and will give birth to the calf while standing up. Newborn calves can weigh anywhere from 100-150 pounds and are, on average, around 6 feet tall. According to the Association of Zoos and Aquarium, the mortality rate for giraffe calves in human care is about 25 percent while the mortality rate for giraffe calves in their native range is over 50 percent. Scientists also estimate that only a quarter of giraffe calves reach adulthood in their native ranges due to a variety of threats.
“Our devoted team is truly devastated but continues to be lifted by the outpouring of concern and support we have received from giraffe lovers from around the world. The Columbus Zoo’s animal care experts made heroic efforts to try and save Cami and the calves. Every individual animal in our care is extremely important not only to us, but to their species, and as giraffe populations are declining rapidly in their native ranges, it is up to all of us to help protect them. Working to help vulnerable species like giraffes comes with both triumphant and heartbreaking moments, and even during this sad time, I am proud of the Columbus Zoo’s work on behalf of animals in our care as well as our continued commitment to the conservation of giraffes in Africa,” said Columbus Zoo and Aquarium President/CEO Tom Stalf.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species™, giraffe populations overall are listed as vulnerable in their native range across southern and eastern Africa, with several giraffe subspecies being listed as endangered. Giraffe populations are in decline due to various factors, including habitat loss, civil unrest/military operations, poaching and ecological changes.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is a long-time supporter of several direct giraffe conservation initiatives and has raised a total of $191,825 for giraffe projects since 2002. The Zoo also provided a one-time $56,679 grant to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation through the Zoo’s Wine for Wildlife Fund-A-Need.
Additionally, the Columbus Zoo and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado are the co-founders of the giraffe plasma bank and, along with several other collaborating zoos, work to consistently collect plasma from giraffe to send to animals in need of a transfusion.
With its mission to lead and inspire by connecting people and wildlife, the zoo also remains committed to engaging the public to help increase awareness about these species and the actions we can all take to help protect them.
Submitted by the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.