Auckland Zoo staff are today mourning the loss of a three-day-old giraffe calf that despite valiant around-the-clock efforts by veterinary and keeping staff, was too ill to be saved.

The male calf’s illness worsened significantly yesterday afternoon with his low-grade fever escalating to a high fever, and blood test results revealing extensive breakdown of muscle and organ failure. Given this, last night the Zoo team had to make the tough but kindest call to euthanise him.

While experienced 16-year-old mum Rukiya had a normal pregnancy and smooth birth (her sixth successful birth) and her calf was a normal size, highly unusually, when her new-born arrived in the world at 2.30am on Monday morning, he was too weak to stand.


We're mourning the loss of our ill giraffe calf

“A giraffe calf is normally up and on its feet within half an hour – something it needs to do in order to be able to reach up and suckle from its mother, which it continues doing for up to six months of age,” says Auckland Zoo senior vet, Dr An Pas.  

Throughout the calf’s first day the Zoo’s veterinary team and specialist giraffe keepers fed him regularly via a tube to enable him to receive the colostrum and milk needed to provide him with essential sustenance and immunity. They also gave him physio sessions, and as a preventative measure, the vet team administered antibiotics.

“He had spirit and was a fighter, and did manage to stand for short periods and suckle a little bit a few times over the next two days. Rukiya, an amazing mother, was doing everything she could to help him, but in the end, this calf was unable to sustain standing for long enough to suckle with Rukiya,” explains Dr Pas.

“It’s such a tough situation as when a calf is weak like this to start with, it’s vulnerable to infection and once an infection sets in, as it did, its body uses all its power to deal with and fight the infection, so it’s not getting enough energy and food so it starts to break down muscle.”

The loss of the calf is especially tough for the Zoo’s passionate team of Pridelands keepers who care for the Zoo’s giraffe family, and spent the last few nights working in shifts to monitor the calf and mum Rukiya.

“It’s heart-breaking when something like this happens, and always a difficult decision no matter what the species, but it was clear this was a battle that was not going to be won. We feel really proud and honoured that, with our amazing vet colleagues, we were able to do everything we could to give this calf a fighting chance,” says Pridelands keeper David Crimp. 

The father of this calf was elderly male, 19-year-old Zabulu, who died last April.  Auckland Zoo is currently home to three giraffe; adult females Rukiya and Kiraka, and 15-month-old female, Kabili, the offspring of Kiraka. Sometime in the future, the Zoo will welcome a male giraffe as part of the Australasian regional breeding programme for this species.