Zoo Mourns Beloved Giraffe

The Great Plains Zoo and Butterfly House & Aquarium (GPZ/BHA) team is heartbroken to announce the passing of Chioke, the reticulated giraffe. Following a severe fracture in his front left foot, Animal Care and Veterinary leaders made the difficult, but responsible, decision to humanely euthanize him.

Chioke was born in 2006 at Busch Gardens in Tampa, FL. He came to GPZ in 2007 at less than eight feet tall. He grew to nearly 15 feet. He sired three calves during his lifetime, all of whom have gone on to live at other zoos.

Chioke was often chewing on a single piece of hay, which he would (usually) swap out for kale or his favorite biscuits when it came time for public giraffe feedings. When he was younger, his favorite enrichment was a jug filled with rocks. He would hit it with his ossicones and send rocks flying everywhere. He loved it. Chioke also loved to play with his boomer ball and would kick it around the yard. Every time he went in or out, he liked to pause in the door of the giraffe barn to scratch his head.

Chioke lived with ongoing hoof and foot issues during the latter part of his life, including two P3 fractures (the tip of the toe bone) in 2016 and 2017. These earlier fractures and resulting arthritis were successfully managed medically through a combination of stall rest with increased bedding, anti-inflammatory pain medications, joint supplements, voluntary hoof care, and laser therapy. He was also trained for voluntary x-rays, which were essential in providing a diagnosis and full understanding of the situation when he fractured his left front P2 bone this March. A P2 fracture is less common and much more severe than the P3 fractures he’d experienced earlier. He presented lameness in his front left foot during a routine morning check, and it is unknown how his P2 fracture was sustained overnight.

Once the fracture was detected, Giraffe Species Survival Plan (SSP) vets and past vets who had worked with Chioke through his first fractures were consulted. A team approach was utilized to develop a treatment plan with input from professionals all over the nation. Aggressive medical management with multimodal pain and anti-inflammatory drugs was used to control pain and swelling. He was placed on stall rest with bedding to aid in comfort and decrease movement and the risk of worsening his injury. Laser therapy was used both for the injured foot and the uninjured right foot to help support the additional weight-bearing it was doing.

Large animal surgeons were consulted, and it was agreed that an immobilization for surgery or an orthopedic device was not in Chioke’s best interest given his other injuries and the degree of arthritis present. A thermal imaging camera was purchased to help monitor progress.
Recheck x-rays were taken and showed that his fracture had become more displaced, and he was showing signs of stress. The entire team gathered, and the decision was made to euthanize due to quality-of-life concerns.

Every animal death is difficult, and we know this one is particularly hard for GPZ/BHA staff and guests. GPZ/BHA staff had a chance to visit Chioke and say goodbye, while feeding him his favorite apple biscuits. Grief counseling and mental health support services are also available to our team members. We encourage guests to share their favorite memories and photos of Chioke on our Facebook post, so we can all support one another as we grieve.

We remember Chioke as a gentle, curious, mischievous giraffe who was always up for feedings and interacting with his keepers and guests.

“Chioke” means “gift from God,” and he certainly was.