BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The loss was heartbreaking, but now there are answers as to why a baby giraffe born at the Maryland Zoo lived for only four weeks before handlers were forced to euthanize him.
A necropsy was recently completed on the body of Julius, the giraffe calf who was only the second in 20 years to be born at the Druid Hill Park facility.
Julius was born in June and died in July. During that time period, efforts to save his life were shared on the zoo’s social media pages.
“We really want people to know what goes on behind the scenes as well as in front of them in the exhibits,” says curator Mike McClure.
Julius would not nurse. Staff tried to feed him with little success. He was given plasma injections to duplicate the antibodies found in his mother’s milk. Ill and starving, he was eventually euthanized.
Now the zoo knows “some of the nerves in his brain weren’t quite right,” according to veterinarian Sam Sander. “They were a little asymmetric from one side of his brain to the other.”
Which explains why his head tilted slightly to the left. It also affected his tongue.
It could have been caused by lack of oxygen during birth, or it could have happened while he was developing pre-birth.
“It’s probably why he was never able to nurse from his mom, but it also explains one of the struggles we had of getting him to nurse from us from a bottle or from a pan,” Sander says.
The struggle to save Julius comes against the backdrop of giraffes vanishing at an alarming rate in the wild.
In 1985, there were over 163,000 wild giraffes. Today, there are about 98,000. That represents a 40 percent decline.
But because Julius’s struggle and death drew national attention, it “got people to be involved and understand, to then learn more about the plight of giraffes in the wild and to bring attention to it, and be able to push for a bigger conservation message,” says curator Erin Cantwell.
Hopefully that will be a silver lining from the difficult loss.