Thank you for your outpouring of love and support over the loss of our beloved giraffe Witten. Monday was a tragic whirlwind. We know you have a lot of questions, and we’ve tried to answer them below.
What happened to Witten? Our one-year-old giraffe Witten passed away on Monday, June 17, during a routine physical exam in preparation for his move to another AZA-accredited zoo in Canada on a breeding recommendation made by AZA’s Giraffe Species Survival Plan. Before crossing any borders, animals are required to undergo routine, yet extensive, medical testing, per government regulation. Witten was sedated so our vets could safely perform the physical and viral tests, including tuberculosis and brucellosis testing. Tragically, Witten stopped breathing during the exam and passed away after unsuccessful resuscitation efforts. We are conducting an internal investigation of the incident, including a necropsy (an animal autopsy).
Why did he need to be sedated? Any procedure requiring a sedative requires careful planning, and that decision is not one we make lightly. The safety of both the animal and our staff are top priority.
Are giraffe endangered in the wild? Why is the AZA’s Species Survival Plan so important? Yes, many people don’t realize that giraffes are facing a silent extinction in the wild. In the past 30 years, giraffes have experienced a 40% decline in population. Today it’s estimated that fewer than 97,000 giraffes remain in the wild. Many factors affect giraffes including human encroachment, poaching, and habitat loss. But organizations like zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums are helping save giraffes in the wild through conservation efforts and raising awareness.
Why would moving Witten have been important for the SSP? The AZA’s Species Survival Plan closely monitors genetic diversity to ensure the long-term survival of endangered animals. The Giraffe SSP determined that Witten was a good match for the females at another zoo. He was intended to be that zoo’s dominant bull and was recommended to breed there once mature. He would not have been able to stay at Dallas Zoo, as his father would have driven him out of the herd once he was of breeding age.
How is his mom Chrystal? Chrystal is doing well, and our zoologists are keeping a close eye on her. Male giraffes typically leave their moms around 15 months in the wild, so this was a natural time he would be moving on his own.
How did giraffe Kipenzi die in 2015? Kipenzi attempted to make a sharp turn while rough-housing with her brother, and ran into the perimeter edge of the giraffe habitat, breaking three vertebrae in her neck, and dying immediately. Kipenzi’s death was a tragic loss for the Zoo after her birth was broadcast live on Animal Planet. In honor of Kipenzi, the Dallas Zoo was able to raise nearly $50,000 for giraffe conservation.
How can we help? Please consider making a donation to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, our partner in the field who we work closely with to save giraffes in Africa: www.giraffeconservation.com.
Our hearts are broken over this loss, and we ask that you continue to keep our Zoo family in your thoughts.