Baby Giraffe Dies During Risky Surgery At Oklahoma Zoo

Kyah, a 6 month old giraffe at Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, died Tuesday during a risky surgery to correct a fatal birth defect.

The surgery was attempted to fix what is known as a persistent right aortic arch, a condition often found in dogs but never before diagnosed in a giraffe. Kyah was suffering from a blood vessel that had wrapped around her esophagus at the base of her heart, cutting off the route to her stomach. Normally such blood vessels are absorbed when the animal is still in the womb. Kyah was regurgitating her food due to the persistent right aortic arch.

Oklahoma State University Veterinary School facility in Stillwater, north of Oklahoma City opened up her neck and chest to try to correct the condition, but the 4-hour surgery failed. The condition would only have worsened as the giraffe got older, ending in a painful death. Instead, Kyah was euthanized after the failed surgery.

Dr. Jennifer D’Agostino, the zoo’s director of veterinary services, said, “The zoo family is grateful to our colleagues at OSU’s Veterinary Medical Hospital for their expertise and hard work,” said Dr. Jennifer D’Agostino, zoo director of veterinary services.”

Before the surgery, the zoo was quoting only a 50% chance that Kyah would survive the procedure, which had never before been attempted on a giraffe. The surgery was considered risky partly because of Kyah’s size at 9 feet, 525 pounds. Even the anesthesia itself was risky due to a giraffe’s long neck.

OSU veterinary surgeon Mark Rochat had performed similar surgeries on smaller animals but the surgery has never been attempted on a giraffe. He was assisted by other surgeons as well as the zoo’s five-person veterinary team. The zoo team chose to do the surgery at a time when the giraffe would normally be weaning, but in Kyah’s case, that would have meant she would begin to regurgitate her food even more until she starved to death.

Tara Henson, spokesperson for the Oklahoma City Zoo, mourned the giraffe’s death. “Everyone is sad, but we were prepared for it. Still that hope was there,” Reuters reports.

D’Agostino added, “We knew going into this procedure that Kyah’s chances were extremely low and we felt we gave her every chance possible to thrive.”

The baby giraffe’s remains will undergo a routine necropsy, as is performed any time an animal dies in an accredited US zoo. According to the Associated Press, her tissue will then be used for research at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma.

If you need something to lighten your heart after that story, watch these Sumatran tiger triplets born earlier this year at London Zoo.