On Wednesday, June 16, one of the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden’s female, 17-year-old white-tailed deer, Ruby, was examined by the Zoo’s veterinary team after caretakers noticed changes in her behavior including lethargy, as well as a change in body condition. Ruby had been closely monitored by her care team for the past couple of years due to her advanced age and diagnosis of arthritis. This examination led caretakers to the difficult decision to humanely euthanize Ruby.
The average life expectancy for white-tailed deer in human care is around 15 years. Ruby arrived at the Zoo’s Oklahoma Trail habitat in August 2004 as a young fawn. At 17 years old, Ruby was considered geriatric. Ruby was receiving pain medication and weekly cold laser therapy treatments to provide her comfort in her aging years. She participated voluntarily in her treatment, as a result of the strong and trusting relationship she shared with her care team.
A necropsy, or animal autopsy, was conducted by the Zoo’s veterinary team at the Joan Kirkpatrick Animal Hospital. In addition to her arthritis, Ruby’s digestive system had slowed down, causing her to have difficulty absorbing nutrients.
Ruby is remembered by her caretakers as being a very energetic, sweet yet sassy deer who they could always count on to greet them at the door of her habitat for snacks and scratches. Ruby’s favorite treats were raisins, along with apples and carrots.
Although the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists white-tailed deer as a species of least concern with a stable population, the species was near extinction due to overhunting at the turn of the 20th century. In fact, a white-tailed deer was the Zoo’s first animal in 1902. The novelty brought guests from around Oklahoma and nearby states to the Zoo, which was then located in Wheeler Park.
The Zoo remains home to four female white-tailed deer, Chaz, 12, Cher, 16, Tiva, 1, and Tula, 1. Chaz and Cher can be found in the Zoo’s Oklahoma Trails habitat, while Tiva and Tula can be found in along Giraffe loop in a habitat they share with 11-year-old leopard tortoise, Georgette.
- Tracey Dolphin-Drees, curator of hoofstock and primates
Photo: Jessica Quinnett