We are heartbroken to share that our giraffe matriarch Johari passed away this weekend following a medical procedure. As one of the original five giraffes to be on habitat when Expedition Africa opened in 2003, Johari was a regular sight at our giraffe platform for 18 years, always eager to accept snacks from admiring guests.
Last week, Johari stopped eating and became lethargic. Our animal care team immediately became involved as inappetence is especially dangerous for giraffes. Our staff noticed she had a loose tooth. This dental issue not only offered a reason for her lack of appetite, but it also could have indicated a more serious health issue like an abscess.
She was started on antibiotics and pain medication, and initial bloodwork and fecal test results did not offer any explanations for her symptoms. Since she did not improve after several days of this treatment and continued not eating, our team began planning for a standing sedation procedure for Saturday morning to remove the tooth and look for any further oral health issues.
A standing sedation lets a patient stand and have control of their body while allowing staff to perform procedures that a fully awake patient may not tolerate. During sedation, a tooth was removed, and she was given antibiotics and fluids. Johari did well during and initially after the procedure, but about 45 minutes into recovery, she became unsteady on her feet and went into cardiac arrest. Our heroic team immediately began performing CPR, but she could not be revived.
Based on her decline, our animal care team suspects a more serious underlying illness played a part in her sudden heart failure. At 21 years old, Johari was considered geriatric for her species. She had chronic kidney disease and rumen inflammation, two common diseases for older giraffes. A full necropsy will be done by the UF Pathology Service. We hope to have more information to share with you in the coming weeks.
While every animal death is difficult for our Zoo family, this is an especially hard loss for us. Johari arrived at the Zoo in 2003, immediately captivating visitors and staff alike.
Chelsea Herman, our animal curator, described Johari as a “calm confident matriarch.” She loved people watching and eating leaves from guests at the giraffe platform. Johari also enjoyed training sessions and could always be counted on to make her way up to the hoof training wall to be the first in line for a trim.
Whenever there was something new in the environment like a door or gate, Johari would be the first one to confidently walk past it and show the rest of the giraffes there was nothing to fear.
“If some of the herd was too scared to follow her, she would turn around and walk back to them so they could walk with her,” Chelsea said. “She was a leader in the herd and will be greatly missed.”
Two of her nine calves, Mapenzi and Floyd remain here, while others have calves of their own at other zoos across the country. Her legacy lives on with her Zoo family and beyond.