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A photo of Rafiki the giraffe

Over the years, we’ve shared the ongoing care our 25-year-old bull giraffe Rafiki receives to make him more comfortable as he deals with age-related health issues like arthritis. This July, our animal care team noticed Rafiki showing signs of discomfort in his left front hoof, which led to him having mobility issues.

We continued his usual maintenance care – chiropractic sessions, acupuncture, laser therapy and regular hoof trims – but Rafiki’s keepers didn’t see a significant improvement. Rafiki was started on pain medication while we consulted experts like the Zoo Hoofstock Trim Program (ZHTP) to see what our options were to give Rafiki some relief.  

Those experts suggested placing special custom “shoes” on Rafiki’s front hooves, a process we’ve done to help with hoof issues for our Baird’s tapir Antonio and Grevy’s zebra Iggy in the past. These special polyethylene rubber “shoes” should offer Rafiki some better support and alleviate the pressure on his hooves (one for the injured hoof and another for the right front hoof to keep him balanced).  

To place the shoes, the whole process began with very thorough hoof trims on both of Rafiki’s front feet. Hoof trims help cut and shape the hoof – similar to a nail cut for humans! Rafiki and most of our giraffe tower are trained for voluntary hoof trims.  

Our partners at ZHTP came to the Zoo for the shoeing process. ZHTP farrier Steve Foxworth traced both of Rafiki’s feet and built a shoe that fit each of Rafiki’s hooves. Rafiki went into our transfer area and set each foot onto our hoof trim block so his hooves could be sanded, and the shoe glued on. The shoes got extra glue around the outside as well.  

Did we mention that all of this was voluntarily done by Rafiki? It’s so important to us that our animal residents have choice and control in much of their lives with us. Thanks to regular training and close relationships with his animal care team, Rafiki had the knowledge and confidence to go through this process.  

The shoes can stay on for about 8 weeks before being replaced. Once the shoes are removed, Rafiki’s hooves will need to be trimmed before the shoes are replaced. Our director of animal programs, Lauren Hinson, has learned the process from Steve with ZHTP, so she will be able to continue this care with Rafiki.  

While we hope this helps Rafiki’s hooves heal and makes the shoes unnecessary, our animal care team is prepared to provide him with this care to keep him comfortable for the rest of his life. His animal care team has moved into a mindset of providing him hospice care as we begin monitoring his quality of life as he also deals with a lack of appetite and decreasing body condition. We’re committed to giving all our animal residents like Rafiki the best possible physical, mental and emotional health from birth to old age.

Brevard Zoo is an independent, not-for-profit organization that receives no recurring government funding for our operating costs. Your generous support enables us to continue to serve our community and continue our vital animal wellness, education and conservation programs.