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Honolulu Zoo Assists Geriatric Giraffe With Immobilization And Novel Therapies
Squirt recovering after his procedure
WAIKĪKĪ– On May 2, 2023, the Honolulu Zoo undertook immobilization of Squirt, the 23 year old, 19 foot tall, 2,000 pound male Reticulated giraffe, to perform care for his chronic hoof and limb issues. Anesthesia of a one ton animal with unique anatomy such as a giraffe’s long neck and long legs is no easy feat. The Honolulu Zoo flew in giraffe veterinary specialist Dr. Liza Dadone and farrier Steve Foxworth of the Zoo Hoofstock Trim Program to assist with planning and executing the procedure to minimize the inherent risks of mega-vertebrate immobilization and provide the greatest chance of Squirt’s successful recovery.
Adult giraffe are considered one of the most challenging animals to anesthetize due to their large size and unique physiology adapted to their unique body shape. There is a serious risk of complications during the anesthetic induction or recovery that could lead to death or euthanasia. In Squirt’s case, it was decided that the risk of immobilizing Squirt was worth the benefit of substantially improving his quality of life by providing treatment for his chronic hoof and limb issues. Hoof overgrowth and arthritis are common findings in older giraffe in captivity, and treatment can involve hoof trimming, supportive shoes, nutritional supplements, substrate modification, and pain relief medication.
Over 45 individuals from the zoo and medical community assembled to work together with the zoo’s veterinary and animal care teams to provide his care and multiple simultaneous treatments during the procedure.
“When you decide to anesthetize a giraffe, you want to make the most of the limited time available and provide as much beneficial care as possible in that window,” said Honolulu Zoo veterinarian Dr. Jill Yoshicedo.
This coordinated care included hoof trimming of all four feet, pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy, placement of a custom urethane shoe, ultrasound examination of the limb soft tissue support structures, blood sampling, radiographs, and a thorough bath to treat his chronic skin lesions. Additionally, over one billion giraffe stem cells were flown in and administered by Dr. Valerie Johnson, a veterinary specialist in immunotherapy and regenerative medicine from Michigan State University.
During the procedure, Squirt’s head and neck were carefully supported and kept elevated by a nine foot long neck board, his body was constantly massaged to stimulate blood flow and prevent muscle cramps, and he received oxygen through an extra-large demand ventilator created specifically for mega-vertebrates.
“It was wonderful to see everyone working together to help Squirt,” said Honolulu Zoo Director Linda Santos. “We are extremely grateful for Honolulu Zoo Society’s financial support in bringing in the multiple specialists, as well as the community support in providing their time, expertise, and muscle to pulling off this rare procedure.”
After the reversal drugs were administered and his body repositioned, the team was rewarded to finally see Squirt stand on his own and start eating.
“After this immobilization, we have noticed him immediately placing more weight on his newly shod foot and taking longer, more comfortable strides,” Yoshicedo said. “We did find evidence of serious ongoing hoof disease that will need to be continually monitored and treated. Because these are incurable issues, we need to be ready for him to take a turn for the worse at any time. For now we are taking it day by day and appreciating the current improvement in his quality of life.”
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