On Monday, June 17, the Dallas Zoo experienced a tragedy. Witten, a 1-year-old giraffe, passed away. Zoo officials took to Twitter to alert the public that the giraffe, named after Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, died suddenly during a routine exam. The Tweet explained that the examination required the sue of anesthesia, and that while Witten was under, he stopped breathing. The zoo made it clear that urgent attempts were made to save Witten’s life, however sadly, there was little to be done. The zoo continued by saying that there is always a risk associated with the use of anesthesia.
However, the next day, the zoo responded to several questions surrounding the death of Witten, and revealed that the young giraffe was not sick before the procedure, but was simply being prepared for transfer to another zoo. The Dallas Zoo explained, via Twitter, that “Based on the AZA Giraffe Species Survival Plan breeding recommendation, Witten was due to leave us this September for a new home at another AZA-accredited zoo in Canada”. On the website, zoo officials clarified and emphasized the necessity for Witten’s transfer to another zoo, stating that Witten was “intended to be that zoo’s dominant bull and was recommended to breed there once mature. He would not have been able to stay at the Dallas Zoo, as his father would have driven him out of the herd once he was of breeding age”.
However, the controversy lies in the use of chemical restraints on Witten. The American Association of Zoo Veterinarians (AAZV) state in their guidelines that “it is not recommended to immobilize giraffe on a routine for tuberculosis screening unless clinical signs support testing, a history of tuberculosis in the herd warrants screening or impending shipment is to occur”. However, the use of anesthesia is controversial and dangerous for an animal as complex as the giraffe. Due to the unique anatomy of the animal, the use of anesthesia is even more challenging. The inherent risks involved with using chemical restraints leads zoo keepers to use alternative modes of restraining the animal. Annamarie Alteri, a keeper at a small zoo in northern California, says that “Wild animals can be trained with positive reinforcement to tolerate touch and even entering restraint devices”. So examinations can be done without the use of drugs. So why did the zoo not attempt to use these methods? Was there such a rush to relocate the animal that they felt putting his life at risk was a necessity?
The zoo has been celebrated for their transparency on the subject, with many followers on social media sharing their support and condolences, and congratulating the zoo for their work. The zoo is making a great effort to try and keep the public in the loop, and is answering any questions the public is posing. They assure us that the mother, Chrystal, is doing fine. They also ask that in order to celebrate Witten and support the cause, donations be made to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. The zoo also extends deep gratitude for the outpouring of love and support from zoo lovers in the Dallas are. The Dallas Zoo states that their mission is to engage people and support and save animals, and the support after this tragedy demonstrates that the zoo has clearly fostered a love of animals in the public.