Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has lost one of its best-loved residents. Duke, the 21-year-old bull giraffe, had been living at the facility since 2003. He was distinguished for his natural beauty—his stature and dark coloring set him apart from the herd—as well as his outgoing personality.
Giraffe keepers and animal health experts had been treating Duke for degenerative arthritis for years. He received regular pain relief and was kept on an exercise regimen that encouraged joint strengthening.
Early Tuesday morning, keepers found Duke incapacitated. After testing and deliberation, zoo authorities decided the most humane course of action was euthanasia.
”Unlike a person with extremely acute arthritis,” said deputy zoo director Dan Maloney in a press release, “an immobile giraffe is unable to utilize braces, canes or other mechanized assistance. Once a giraffe goes down, their prospects are bleak at best. Saying goodbye is always hard and understandably, staff are sad, but thankful his ordeal was brief.”
Duke’s herd was nearby and his trusted keepers were present when he passed. A full exam will follow to determine underlying causes and advance the study of arthritis in mature giraffes.
Besides his role as a successful animal ambassador, Duke was a linchpin of the Giraffe Species Survival Plan (SSP), a cooperative breeding program among accredited zoos. He sired 18 offspring, three of whom still reside at Jacksonville Zoo.
Duke's human friends are grieving the loss.
“We were lucky to have had the opportunity to get to know and work with such a special giraffe,” said mammal supervisor Corey Neatrour, who worked with Duke for a full decade. “If he had lived another 100 years, it would not have been enough time with him.”