The Tulsa Zoo is mourning the loss of its beloved giraffe, Samburu, known by most as Sam. Sam’s health has been slowly declining due to degenerative osteoarthritis over the last several months and he has been under the close supervision of animal care and veterinary staff. Osteoarthritis is not uncommon for large-bodied animals, but Sam recently experienced a sudden major decline in his ability to move and stand comfortably and he became markedly lame on his front right foot. Staff acted quickly to obtain x-rays and the results indicated that Sam had fractured his foot and would not return to a comfortable, non-painful state. The source of this fracture is unknown but may have been caused by something as simple as a misstep during his normal routines.
Animal care and veterinary staff continuously worked to monitor Sam’s condition and quality of life and medication was administered to ease his pain. Once animal care and veterinary staff determined that Sam’s quality of life was diminished, they made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize Sam yesterday.
Giraffe foot problems, as with horses, are difficult to treat and become serious very quickly due to the animal’s size. Sam weighed 2,500 lbs and treatments are limited due to the size and natural behaviors of such animals. Proper healing would likely not occur because of the constant pressure Sam would instinctively place on the injury. Strong, sturdy legs and feet are paramount to a giraffe’s survival and as Sam’s injury became progressively more severe, it became clear that the most humane decision was to not allow Sam to remain in a painful state.
Having been born at the Tulsa Zoo 21 years ago, Sam lived longer than average for a male giraffe in human care, a testament to the quality care he received at the Tulsa Zoo. Male giraffes in human care rarely live to the oldest documented age of 27 years old and are considered geriatric in their early to mid-20s.
“Our Tulsa Zoo staff and volunteers understandably developed strong bonds with Sam and this is an extremely difficult time for the zoo family, “said Joe Barkowski, VP of Animal Conservation and Science. “He also had a very special place in the hearts of zoo guests and members, which we all observed firsthand when we celebrated his 21st birthday just last month.”
The Tulsa Zoo is home to two other giraffes, 6-year-old Lexi and 4-year-old Pili.
In memory of Sam, friends can share their memories at the zoo’s giraffe exhibit and on the zoo’s Facebook page.