10 reasons why we refuse to let giraffes face a silent extinction

There are fewer giraffes left in the wild than African elephants. Let that sink in. Today is World Giraffe Day, and the earth’s tallest and longest-necked animal is facing extinction, but we bet you didn’t know that.

Africa wouldn’t look the same without the iconic giraffe roaming the bush. With fewer than 80,000 giraffes left in the wild — a 40% drop in the past 15 years — seeing these remarkable animals in the wild may not be possible in years to come.

It’s a silent extinction that needs deafening attention. Here are 10 reasons why we refuse to let one of the animal kingdom’s most unique creatures disappear:

IMG_6074 Mix Giraffe Elephant CS-rumbling
• Humans rarely hear them, but giraffes do indeed vocalize. If lucky enough, you can hear them grunting, lowing and bellowing. But most impressively, they vocalize in infrasonic frequencies that we can’t hear. Infrasonic communications carry over long distances.

Nicole Leonard FB-splaying
• They drink water like no other. Since their necks are too short to reach the ground (go figure!), these leggy animals awkwardly splay their front legs, or kneel to allow their necks to reach below. True talent. (Image credit: Nicole Leonard)
Katie and baby 3 4x6-markings
• Giraffes rock one of nature’s most beautiful spotted coats. Within all nine giraffe subspecies, each individual’s markings are as unique as our fingerprints. The reticulated giraffe subspecies, which you’ll find at our Zoo, sports a dark coat with a beautiful web of fine white lines.

• Despite their distinctive and extraordinary necks, giraffes surprisingly have only seven neck vertebrae – the same number as humans. Each vertebrae is lengthy, measuring up to 10 inches long.

Auggie feed kid CS-tongue
• Don’t judge a tongue by its color (said no mom ever). Giraffes’ funky tongues range from black to blue to purple. It’s believed that the dark coloration protects it from sun damage, since they spend the majority of their day eating with their tongues out. Their prehensile tongues can measure up to 20 inches long!

IMG_2201 Katie, Jamie and Kipenzi CS-calfdrop
• Giraffe calves experience the longest drop to the ground than any other animal when born – about 6 feet! These babies are naturally wired to stand up within an hour of birth and begin running shortly after. (A running baby has a better chance of not being a predator’s dinner.)

• The giraffe’s only living relative is the elusive okapi. Known as the “forest giraffe,” okapi are only found in the dense rainforests of the Congo. The two species are similar in body shape, although okapi have a much shorter neck.

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• Their eyes are about the size of golf balls. Mind blown.

Katie and Jamie Aug. 2011-heart
• Giraffes have super-sized hearts (because they care so much). But really, their hearts are two feet long and weigh up to 25 pounds – the largest of any land mammal. They have a highly specialized cardiovascular system due to their unusual shape. Their hearts can pump about 15 gallons of blood around its body every minute at a blood pressure twice that of an average human. (Source: GCF)

IMG_2170 Kipenzi sitting CS-sitting
• Vertical sleeping beauties: Giraffes usually snooze while standing up. They occasionally drop to a vulnerable sitting position on the ground for quick naps. (You’ll often see our eight giraffes sitting down – it’s a sign they feel safe in our care.)

Sadly, giraffes are already extinct in at least seven African countries. And the Rothschild’s giraffe subspecies is actually more endangered than giant pandas. Africa’s gentle giants need our help.

Our partners at the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) work tirelessly in the field every day to protect these majestic animals. We’re proud to help fund GCF’s efforts to monitor giraffes and remove snares in Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda, home to more than 90% of the wild population of the Rothschild’s giraffe.

Learn more about how we’re helping save giraffes with GCF, and please consider donating directly to GCF on this special day dedicated to one of the coolest animals.

Categories: Conservation, Giraffe | 1 Comment

10 animals who wear fall well

Forget the flannel, cable-knit sweaters, and scarves – no one knows fall style better than the animal kingdom. We’re laying down some fall fashion with 10 animals who make this season look better than ever.

1. African crowned cranes rock autumn’s trendiest hairdo like fall royalty. They sport a golden crown of feathers atop their head, distinguishing them from other cranes. Their red neck wattle adds a nice splash of color, too.

African Crowned Crane2. A creature that resembles a large, ripe tomato deserves a major autumn accolade. Tomato frogs are brightly colored to warn predators that they’re not good to eat – but we think they’re juicily good-looking.

_MG_9734 Tomato Frog CB3. Giraffes’ spotted coats prove nature has a sense of style. Within all nine giraffe subspecies, each individual’s markings are as unique as our fingerprints. The reticulated giraffe subspecies, which you’ll find at our Zoo, sports a dark coat with a beautiful web of fine white lines.

4. Because no other animal can model a bed of fall leaves as adorably as our African pygmy hedgehog. These tiny guys use their coat of spines to escape predators – they’ll curl up into a tight ball and their spines will raise, forming a protective barrier.

Hedgehog-African Pygmy5. African red river hogs got it goin’ on. From their striking coloration and prominent tassels on their ears, to the hairy white Mohawk running along their spine, these hogs wear fall like no other.

Red River Hog Hank6. Yellow and black has never looked so good. Amiright? Tiger salamanders’ colors and markings vary throughout their wide North American range, but their most common marking resembles the striped pattern of their big cat namesake.

Tiger Salamander7. Golden lion tamarins rock nature’s fieriest coat. These small monkeys get their name from their vibrant reddish-orange fur and the long hair round their face that forms a perfect mane.

IMG_1599 Golden Lion Tamarin CS8. The chestnut-breasted malkoha manages to flaunt every fall color flawlessly. Males and females have near identical plumage, and wear those red eye patches like bosses.

ChestnutBreastedMalkohaMilkyEyelashes9. Tigers totally own fall. Their symbolic stripes act as camouflage in high grasses or dense forests. Sumatran tigers, like our boy Kipling, have the darkest orange coat of any tiger subspecies.

Kipling10. Thanks to our fall-loving chimps, playing in foliage has never looked so good.

Categories: Birds, Chimpanzee, Giraffe, Mammals, Monkey, Reptiles and Amphibians, Tigers | Leave a comment

Mourning our beloved Kipenzi


We’re overwhelmed by the love you’ve shown today for our little Kipenzi, and to our grieving staff. Because you’ve asked a few specific questions, we wanted to answer them here for you.

1. Are you reviewing what happened? Yes. We are conducting a very thorough review of the incident down to the smallest detail, to examine every aspect and ensure that every opinion is heard. While some members of the media have used the word “investigation,” we believe this implies that we have to figure out what happened, or assign blame, and this is not the case. We were fully staffed and they witnessed every moment except the exact second she hit the wall, so we know what happened; no policies or procedures appear to be violated. However, what we WILL do now, with relentless focus, is examine the accident from every angle to look for ways to keep this from happening again. No one wants to prevent this more than our staff.
2. Will you change the habitat? At this time, we have no plans to do so. The habitat is a world-class design that sets a standard that zoos around the world have followed. Kip was in the smaller area of the Giants of the Savanna because it was safer for her than the big space, where she could get up more speed and would have had to avoid more obstacles, including other animals. This was a tragic, heartbreaking accident, nothing more.
3. Then how was she injured? Calves of all species, from horses to cows to giraffes and gerenuks, love to run around wildly. (Like toddlers.) We can’t put bubble-wrap around them, as much as we’d like to. Yesterday when the Zoo closed, the adult giraffes shifted toward the barn, but Kip and big brother Kopano wanted to play more. They chased each other through the habitat and ran in big loops around it. They got to the end of the habitat and Kopano turned the right way, but Kip instead made a sharp turn into the wall. She was a calf; she played like a calf. This type of thing can happen with any hoofstock, cows and horses included – and in the wild, where giraffes will stumble into depressions, fall, and calves run into trees or even another giraffe.
4. How could that hurt her so badly? A necropsy by our veterinary team this morning confirmed that Kip died from a broken neck – again, unfortunately, not an uncommon injury in giraffes, simply because of the long, slender way their necks are built.
5. Should she have been allowed to run, and was the habitat too small? We were very cautious about allowing Kip (and Kopano and Jamie before her) to grow into the larger yards slowly. Yesterday was no different than any other day since May 1, when Kipenzi first went out. She had been exploring and running in that yard for three months, and that’s essential to her growth and development. We couldn’t pen her up in a small area, despite the risk that she might fall or run into something. However, she was in the feeding yard because it was overall a safer place for her – the large Savanna would have been much riskier. So she was in her “baby gate” kind of place when this unfortunate, freak accident occurred.
6. How are the keepers? Our whole staff, especially our giraffe team, is devastated. We all deeply loved Kipenzi, as you did, and are grieving. However, our team is dedicated, devoted and strong, and we have other animals to care for through our tears. Everyone came to work Wednesday, and even some who were off came in to be here with their colleagues. We brought in counselors to help staffers, too. We have received many condolence gifts, from food to flowers and beautiful artwork, and we appreciate that more than you know.
7. How is Katie, Kip’s mom? Katie is eating normally and is finding comfort from her best giraffe friends, Auggie and Jade. She remains in the barn with a private yard while keepers monitor her closely to be sure she continues to do well. She’ll go back into the large habitat when she indicates that she’s ready.
8. Is the rest of the herd mourning? They are acting normally. Giraffes, while social animals, aren’t as emotionally connected with each other as some other animals, like elephants, primates and whales. In the wild, they must constantly be on alert for predators, so they are hard-wired to move on quickly after the loss of a calf.
9. What happened at the Zoo the next day? Operations were completely normal, and the giraffe herd was out in both areas of the habitat. Nothing was different because this doesn’t seem to be a mistake or an error on anyone’s part. It was a terrible accident, and a not-uncommon one in hoofstock.
10. Will there be a memorial at the Zoo for Kipenzi? We are definitely considering how to best honor her memory. Because she was such a remarkable ambassador for her species and for conservation – helping to raise more than $35,000 for our partner in Africa, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation – we chose to first suggest donations to that group. (Donate here: We need time to figure out what other memorial we wish to set up, but we will keep you posted here.
11. Will you have more giraffe calves? We are part of the national Species Survival Plan for giraffes, and will continue to breed when recommended.
12. What is Kip’s legacy? Kipenzi was undoubtedly the most recognized giraffe in the world, and her birth live on Animal Planet captivated millions. From the anticipation of her arrival to her first moments standing and her introduction into the Savanna habitat, Kip continued to melt hearts and bring attention to her species, whose population in the wild has been reduced significantly in recent years. The supportive emails, tweets and Facebook posts we’ve received and responded to throughout Kip’s life could fill volumes – she truly was a household name, and people connected with her deeply.

When you voted for her name online, you were given an opportunity to donate to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. Those donations raised $35,000 to help protect her “cousins” in Africa. Following her passing, Kip continues to bring awareness to her endangered species, and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation has been flooded with more donations in her honor to help the plight of giraffes. Kip’s gave the public a front-row seat into the delivery and care of giraffes, all while inspiring conversations about what we all can do to save them in the wild. We’ve heard from parents whose children were enthralled with seeing a live animal birth right from their living room, classrooms who started research projects on giraffes in the wild, and guests who flew across the country to see the giraffe who was an inspiration for all ages – the stories are incredible. We will always cherish the light Kip was to so many, and her role as an ambassador for conservation will not be forgotten.

13. Will you continue to update us? Yes, of course. We appreciate your support so much. And we operate from a position of transparency, because we’re proud of the work we do and how we provide for animals in our care. We will respond as much as we can, but please understand that given the enormous outpouring of love, it is difficult to respond individually. But know that we are reading every single comment, and that they are helping us get through this difficult time.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Giraffe, Media, Social Media, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , | 75 Comments

Dallas Zoo devastated by loss of wildly popular giraffe calf

Kipenzi takes a break in the giraffe feeding yard July 10, 2015.

Kipenzi in the giraffe feeding yard July 10, 2015.

Accident claims Kipenzi, whose live birth in April mesmerized the world

The Dallas Zoo is devastated to announce the death this evening of Kipenzi, the giraffe calf whose birth on Animal Planet Live captured the hearts of people worldwide.

“This is a huge loss for our giraffe herd, our staff and our guests,” said Gregg Hudson, president and CEO of the Dallas Zoo. “To be honest, it hurts terribly. We’re crushed, and everyone here is mourning. Please keep our staff in your thoughts.”

Keepers were routinely shifting the giraffe herd into their night barn just after 5:30 p.m. when the gangly calf began to scamper about the feeding yard, as she has done since her public debut on May 1. She made a sharp turn and ran into the perimeter edge of the habitat. Preliminary results indicate three broken vertebrae in her neck, and that she died immediately.

“Running is a typical behavior for giraffes of all ages, especially young ones like Kipenzi,” said Harrison Edell, the zoo’s senior director of living collections. “We’ve been very cautious with where we’ve allowed Kipenzi to roam, as we were with her siblings Kopano and Jamie when they were small. It’s heartbreaking that this happened where it did despite our precautions.”

Her mother, Katie, visited Kipenzi before veterinarians and keepers removed her.

On May 1, Kipenzi made her first official public debut in the zoo’s giraffe feed yard with Katie and “Uncle” Auggie. Since then, Kipenzi had explored the habitat regularly. She was the third giraffe calf raised in the Giants of the Savanna habitat since its opening in 2010.

Kipenzi’s birth caught the attention of animal-lovers worldwide after the Dallas Zoo and Animal Planet launched the joint project GIRAFFE BIRTH LIVE this spring on the Animal Planet L!VE streaming video site. Millions of people fell in love with Kipenzi after she made her debut April 10 in front of adoring fans on Animal Planet and Animal Planet L!VE. The “Giraffe Birth Live” TV special on Animal Planet drew 1.4 million viewers on April 11, and the live birth saw more than 2 million streams on

Given the groundswell of love for Kipenzi since her birth, the Dallas Zoo encourages guests to post photos of Kipenzi or leave messages of support for staff on its Facebook and Instagram pages. For those interested in donating in Kipenzi’s memory, the Dallas Zoo recommends The Giraffe Conservation Foundation, our partner at the forefront of protecting giraffes in Africa. Click here to make a donation.

Categories: Africa, Giraffe | Tags: , , , | 34 Comments

Dear Kipenzi: A big bro’s letter to his baby sister

Dear Kipenzi-Letter

Categories: Africa, Giraffe | Tags: , , | 7 Comments

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