Crooked-necked giraffe dies at 21

Gemina the giraffe

Gemina, a giraffe with a distinctive crooked neck and one of the most beloved animals at the Santa Barbara Zoo, has died. She was 21.The zoo euthanized the animal on Wednesday, it was announced Thursday. “We observed a decline in her appetite over the past two weeks and she had stopped eating all together,” said Alan Varsik, the zoo’s director of animal programs and conservation.

“Her declining condition appeared to affect her quality of life. We did everything we could but the time came when we had to make the humane decision,” he said in a statement.

Her illness was not believed related to her neck condition, although results of a necropsy will not be available for several weeks, the zoo said.

“Her demise is consistent with the challenges of old age,” Varsik said.

“Though a few giraffes in captivity have been known to live into their late-twenties, reaching age 21 is considered an achievement,” said zoo CEO and Director Rich Block said. “She was a great animal ambassador, showing that differences can be accepted and even celebrated. She will be missed.” (SJ Mercury News)

I came upon Gemina the giraffe during my birthday trip to the Santa Barbara Zoo. We were alarmed at first, but then we read the plaque next to the enclosure where she and her buds roamed:

“Gemina’s ‘crick’ developed over time, as she grew. The Zoo is uncertain as to the cause. In order to find out we’d have to do invasive neck surgery, which could endanger Gemina greatly. Gemina is doing very well, eats great, and is in no apparent discomfort. She even gave birth to a healthy infant with no problems. She is a very healthy giraffe and reminds us that being different is special!”

Not only that, the Zoo’s website says:

You may have noticed that one of the giraffes at the Zoo has a crooked neck. This giraffe was born at the San Diego Wild Animal Park in July 1986. She arrived at the Santa Barbara Zoo in good health in July 1987. As she matured, her neck developed a small kink, which has increased gradually over the last ten years. This particular giraffe has reproduced at the Zoo and has not shown any signs of pain. We suspect that this kink has formed from an unstable joint in her neck. The unstable joint is most likely due to a benign bony growth near the joint surface. As this mass grows, it will slowly displace the two bones, producing the angle. She functions normally and continually monitored for any signs of pain or changes in her general health.

Awww, Gemina. She was the highlight of my zoo trip. I was jealous of her ocean view. But I’m glad she lived a long, full and healthy life.

Photo of Gemina by by Flickr’s van swearingen