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Santa Barbara Zoo's Giraffe Calf Daniel Dies Following Dental Procedure

August 21, 2012 by Ben Hyatt

Daniel, the Masai giraffe calf who made headlines for his unexpected birth in January 2011, died Wednesday (10/20/12) after being anesthetized for a dental procedure to treat an abscess and infection in his lower left jaw.

“Everything went well during the procedure until the recovery phase, at which point he went into respiratory arrest and resuscitation attempts were unsuccessful,” said Dr. Julie Barnes, the Zoo’s veterinarian. “We do not know what caused Daniel to go into respiratory arrest but we suspect that he may have developed an obstruction of his airway.”

A necropsy will be conducted at the California Animal Health and Food Safety Lab in San Bernardino (CAHFS). It is standard to perform a necropsy on all Zoo animals upon their death, according to Zoo Director Nancy McToldridge.

“We hope to learn something to further the knowledge of anesthesia to help other giraffes in the future,” McToldridge said, “Daniel already taught us a lot during his short time with us. What we learned about hand-rearing may be very beneficial when our two females give birth next April.”

The dental work was performed by the same team of animal dental and health care professionals from The Colyer Institute, San Diego Safari Park, and Santa Barbara Zoo who successfully treated the Zoo’s Asian elephant Little Mac in June and July of this year. The team for Daniel’s procedure included eight veterinarians, three vet technicians, plus Zoo keepers and staff.

“We were as prepared as we could be for the procedure and we had the best expertise available to help us,” said Dr. Barnes. “Giraffes are notoriously one of the most difficult animals to anesthetize successfully and the recovery stage is the most risky part of the procedure both for the animal and staff.”

“Due to their unusual physiology, anesthetizing a giraffe is even more dangerous than anesthetizing an elephant, so we knew there was a risk going in to this procedure,” adds McToldridge. “But it was what was best for Daniel. He needed the work done. Without it, his condition would have only become more painful and increasingly difficult to treat.”

About Daniel's Dental Procedure

Two months ago, keepers noticed that Daniel had developed a lump, suggesting an abscess, inside his lower left jaw. They treated him with two different antibiotics over several weeks, but saw no improvement. The reason for the abscess is not known, but Dr. Barnes and the team suspect it could have come from a bump to his jaw.

Veterinarians from the Colyer Institute and their colleagues examined Daniel in July while they were at the Zoo to work on Little Mac, and the young giraffe’s root canal-like procedure was scheduled for Monday at 9:30 a.m. in the Giraffe Barn.

The calf was first anesthetized and x-rayed to determine the most effective treatment. The dentists were able to expose the affected roots and used new laser treatment to treat to the surrounding infected and necrotic (dead) tissue. The roots were packed with antibiotics and prepared for a future procedure which would have filled the roots.

Daniel did attempt to stand following the procedure, but was unable to stay on his feet. The team worked for thirty minutes to revive him.

“There is no better team, and they did everything possible,” reports McToldridge. “From his surprise arrival until now, Daniel won the hearts of staff and visitors and he will be sadly missed.”

Daniel and the Santa Barbara Zoo's Giraffe Herd

Daniel was born to Audrey, a young Masai giraffe who arrived – unknown to anyone – pregnant from the Los Angeles Zoo in March 2010. Determining pregnancy is not simple in giraffes, and her increased weight was attributed to normal growth. Though females usually first mate around age four and gestation is 14 to 15 months, Audrey was just short of her third birthday when she gave birth to Daniel on January 9, 2011. She refused to nurse, so Daniel was hand-reared by Zoo staff. The “surprise calf” made national news.

The Zoo’s herd are all Masai giraffes, including Michael who arrived from Quebec, Canada, in January 2012; Daniel’s mother Audrey, born in February 2008 at the Los Angeles Zoo; and Betty Lou, born in August 2007 at the San Diego Zoo. The Santa Barbara Zoo’s elderly Baringo giraffe Sulima died at age 21 in June 2012.