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Updated: Latest giraffe death caused by brain disease

A necropsy has concluded that Jarafi, the Greater Vancouver Zoo giraffe that died last month, had a degenerative brain disease. - Zoo photo
A necropsy has concluded that Jarafi, the Greater Vancouver Zoo giraffe that died last month, had a degenerative brain disease.
— image credit: Zoo photo

Jafari, the giraffe, died of a degenerative brain disease.

After an exhaustive investigation into the unexpected death of the Greater Vancouver Zoo’s giraffe last month, numerous pathologists and zoo experts were brought in and concluded that Jafari died of a brain disease called encephalomalacia caused by toxins in the stomach.

“There are a variety of causes of encephalomalacia in ruminants (animals with a fermenting stomach, like cattle, sheep, deer and giraffes).

The ruminant stomach is a giant fermenting vat filled with bacteria,” said Dr. Hilmsworth, an independent veterinary anatomic pathologist.

“This vat can be extremely sensitive, and, on occasion, even very small changes in intake or digestion can cause those bacteria to produce toxic substances that can affect the brain. Unfortunately, the exact mechanism linking gastrointestinal dysfunction to encephalomalacia is still poorly understood, despite the fact that the condition is relatively common in domestic ruminants, such as cattle.”

The zoo’s vet, Dr. Bruce Burton, said the 12-year-old giraffe didn’t suffer.

“Given all the information that we have, Jafari died very quickly and fortunately; there would have been little or no suffering.”

Jafari was the third giraffe to die at the zoo in 12 months. Jafari’s breeding partner and their young son died in November 2011. The necropsy results for those deaths were inconclusive.

Those deaths left Jafari by himself. In the summer, the zoo brought in a five year old male for Jafari to have a companion. Giraffes are herd animals.

Jafari’s unexpected death did bring the B.C. SPCA out to investigate.

With the results of the necropsy, the SPCA says it likely won’t continue looking into the death.

“If nothing can be attributed to causing the animal to be in distress, the case from our perspective, would be dropped,” said Marcie Moriarty, manager of the SPCA cruelty investigations.

The zoo has faced criticism for having three giraffes die in 12 months.

The Humane Society was calling on the zoo to transfer the last remaining giraffe to another zoo.

Despite the criticism, zoo manager Jodi Henderson thanked the zoo’s supporters “who have stayed by us and sent in or stopped by with words of encouragement.”

So far, the giraffe will remain at the zoo.

“The methods of managing exotic animals is constantly evolving and being reviewed, and will be considered and implemented if deemed appropriate,” Henderson wrote in a press release.

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