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Dallas Zoo suspects recent giraffe deaths connected, possible exposure to toxin

By Staff

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    DALLAS (KTVT) — The Dallas Zoo says necropsy results from the recent deaths of two giraffes point to liver damage, suggesting a possible exposure to a toxin of some sort, either through a food source, in the exhibit space, or introduced via a foreign object.

“We still have intense work ahead of us to find a possible link between these two deaths and determine what may have led to this. The lab results we depend on for diagnosis and confirmation simply cannot come fast enough – for us, and for you. We know it’s difficult to hear about these losses,” zoo officials shared via their Facebook page.

Fourteen-year-old Jesse passed away on Oct. 29, despite aggressive treatment and heroic efforts by animal care staff, according to the zoo. He began showing first signs of illness on Oct. 27 and received intense medical care and observation until his ultimate passing. Blood test results showed abnormal liver enzymes, which immediately raised concerns over a possible connection to 19-year-old Auggie, who also died in October. The zoo said he was affectionately known as “Uncle Auggie” because of how sweet and gentle he always was with new calves.

While zoo officials said they suspect the deaths are connected, they are still working toward definitive proof. They’re doing extensive lab testing on blood and tissue samples from Jesse and Auggie to identify commonalities and further pinpoint what may have happened. They’re also testing for Zoonotic diseases, including encephalomyocarditis.

Outside experts from across the country have joined their efforts in continuing to work through lab test results on blood, tissue, food, plants, and other items, in an effort to identify the cause, while also working to eliminate possibilities.

Zoo officials said that prior to Jesse dying, (and without knowing if there was a link between the two illnesses) they put preventative measures in place across their animal teams to isolate and protect the other animals. This included limiting giraffe movements and access to the habitat and feed yard.

The nutrition team discarded entire supplies of some food items, replacing them with fresh crops while awaiting results from toxicology screens. Zoo workers continue to scrutinize food and browse intake to minimize possible risks from food sources as well. They’re closely monitoring giraffe and similar hoofstock for any signs of illness and conducting regular blood draws to monitor liver enzyme levels, too. A change in those levels could be the first indication of an issue, according to the zoo.

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