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Giraffe dies in zoo accident

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The giraffe building at Hogle Zoo reopened Thursday, the day after Sandile, a 7-year-old male giraffe, died when his neck became caught in some fencing.

Dr. Nancy Carpenter, the zoo's veterinarian, said the initial evaluation shows that the giraffe likely suffered a sudden death from severe spinal trauma. The zoo will conduct a necropsy to determine the exact cause of death, but the results won't be available for several weeks.

"It was a freakish accident," zoo spokesman Stacy Phillips said. "It was not something we could have foreseen."

But executive director of the Humane Society of Utah, Gene Baierschmidt, says the death shouldn't have happened. "We're outraged that such a bizarre accident could occur," There's really no excuse."

The zoo's No. 1 priority should be the animals, he said, but instead the zoo recently spent $6 million on a new entryway for visitors.

The accident occurred between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. Wednesday, though the giraffe wasn't found by zoo personnel until about 6:30 a.m. It was last seen alive about midnight by zoo personnel.

The giraffe put its neck through a space in the horizontal fencing that separates the male and female giraffes. It then wound its neck back inside again through the space in the rail below. The zoo staff believes the animal panicked after getting its neck caught.

Phillips said the zoo is now considering adding some sort of solid material between the gaps on the fence, such as mesh.

The giraffe building, opened in 1969, meets all the safety requirements outlined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and also the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums. It has been home to a total of 33 giraffes during its 32 years.

The death leaves the zoo with three giraffes, all females. The zoo building was closed to the public Wednesday but opened as usual Thursday. Giraffes do not go outside in the winter.

Sandile, a Baringo subspecies of giraffe, was born at Oklahoma City's Zoological Park in 1994 and arrived at Hogle Zoo in April 1995. He was the youngest male giraffe on record to become a father, siring three offspring. Sandile was 18 feet tall and weighed nearly 2,000 pounds.

Phillips said zoo officials will consider replacing the giraffe, but the decision may be complicated. A species survival group controls the breeding of many zoo animals internationally, such as giraffes, and it will decide if the zoo can obtain another male giraffe.

The giraffe death at Hogle Zoo was the second major animal death in the past year. Toka, a 37-year-old Asian elephant and 25-year resident of Hogle Zoo, died last March of cancer.

Hogle Zoo experienced two other giraffe deaths from accidents in the early 1990s. These accidents were believed to have been caused by slippery floors. The floors were resurfaced and there have been no similar accidents since that time.

E-mail: lynn@desnews.com