Female Rothschild’s giraffe Noel, 29, died at the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden on Friday, March 2 at approximately 4:30 p.m.
Noel was placed on end-of-life care monitoring beginning in mid-2017 due to severe arthritis and age-related deterioration in her front feet (hooves). On Thursday, March 1, caretakers noticed swelling in the joints of her right, front foot and changes to the hoof indicating her condition had deteriorated and was causing her pain. Zoo veterinary staff were notified and performed an examination, determining the palliative treatments being administered for her age-related medical conditions were no longer effective. Veterinary and caretaker teams then made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize Noel.
Born on Christmas Day in 1988 at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, Noel arrived at the OKC Zoo on May 15, 1990, delighting guests for almost 28 years. From 1992 to 1999, she had five offspring at the Zoo which have, over four subsequent generations, produced 30 giraffes.
During her lifetime, Noel helped to educate millions of Zoo guests about the importance of conservation, putting a face to this critical issue. Her progeny will continue that mission, securing Noel’s legacy. Zoo staff remember her as slightly skittish around new people but inquisitive, intelligent and caring.
There are 1,700 Rothschild’s giraffes remaining in the wild in isolated parts of Kenya and Uganda as populations have declined rapidly in the wild due to poaching and habitat destruction.
According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the median life expectancy for female giraffes is 19.5 years. Noel was notably older than most giraffes in human care but only began experiencing notable health issues related to aging in the last year. Veterinary staff report she was being treated for arthritis with medication and cold laser therapy to reduce joint inflammation.
The Zoo participates in the AZA’s Giraffe Species Survival Plan, a cooperative, long-term management program designed to maintain genetically viable and geographically stable populations of specific species. The Zoo has been contributing to giraffe conservation since 2009 by supporting Northern Rangelands Trust in Kenya. This organization establishes community conservancies, helping local people to manage grazing land to reduce competition between livestock and wildlife. This increases the habitat available for giraffes.
Other herd members at the OKC Zoo include Ellie, 17, Julu, 2 and Ketara, 1. The public can share their memories and photos of Noel on the Zoo’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Photo: Jaimee Flinchbaugh