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Hogle Zoo staff mourn death of giraffe, Riley

Kelsey Brunner, Deseret News

Riley, an 18-year-old giraffe that became a beloved fixture at Hogle Zoo for his "towering" and "gregarious" personality, has died, according to zoo officials.

"Riley was truly a giant; without a doubt, the first animal to stand out amongst others as guests first enter the zoo. He touched the hearts of many as a tall and dignified ambassador especially during our giraffe feeds," said Bob Cisneros, the associate director of animal care at Hogle Zoo.

Zoo staff said that they found Riley, who measured at about 17 feet in height and 2,000 pounds in weight, was unable to stand on his own Thursday morning. Zoo biologists, along with help from the Salt Lake City Fire Department and Wagstaff Crane Service, were called to the zoo's giraffe barn to try and hoist him but were unsuccessful.

The animal's condition "worsened" and he ultimately died from natural causes later in the day, staff wrote in an email Friday.

"Hogle Zoo staff, and our partners who showed up immediately to assist with this giraffe emergency, did everything possible to help Riley but his condition was too advanced. We had wonderful support from other (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) colleagues who have experienced similar scenarios," Dr. Erika Crook, the director of animal health at Hogle Zoo said, in a statement.

Riley was born on Aug. 20, 2003, and came to Hogle Zoo less than a year later. He went on to live the rest of his life there, exceeding the average 14.7-year lifespan for reticulated male giraffes. Staff wrote that Riley had started to show signs of age-related mobility issues in recent months prior to his death Thursday.

Riley, left, stands by his offspring Willow, and her mother, Pogo, at Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, Jan. 19, 2016. Riley died Thursday at the age of 18, according to the zoo.
Riley, left, stands by his offspring Willow, and her mother, Pogo, at Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, Jan. 19, 2016. Riley died Thursday at the age of 18, according to the zoo.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Zoo officials say that global giraffe populations are in "rapid decline," dropping 30% in just the past 15 years as result of habitat loss, deforestation and poaching.

But a part of Riley's legacy is that he helped keep the species going. He sired six calves in his life, including Georgetta in 2018, another one of the zoo's giraffes.