WEST ORANGE, NJ — One of the beloved giraffes at Turtle Back Zoo’s African Adventure died from complications during a medical procedure on Wednesday, May 31, at 3 p.m. Hodari, the 18-foot tall Masai giraffe, was the marquee attraction of the Giraffe House, which also features three other giraffes.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Hodari. On behalf of Turtle Back’s staff, we cannot express how great this loss is,” Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. said in a press release. “The Giraffe Exhibit quickly became Turtle Back Zoo’s most popular attraction, and it was because of Hodari. He was the giraffe that was most comfortable being fed by the public, so our visitors became acquainted with him the most.”
The procedure became necessary when zoo staff observed the 11-year-old Hodari exhibiting strange behavior. During a visual inspection, Turtle Back’s veterinarian Dr. Jon Bergmann noticed something was wrong with the teeth in the back of the giraffe’s mouth. About three weeks ago, Hodari was put under anesthesia so the veterinarian and a dental specialist could get a better look at the problem. Hodari awoke from the first exam without any negative effects. However, when he was placed under anesthesia the second time so the procedure could be completed, he experienced complications.
The exact cause of death will be determined from a necropsy. The results will not be known for approximately a month.
“We observed that Hodari was having difficulty eating and decided performing the procedure would prevent further complications from occurring in the future,” Bergmann said in the release. “We believed this would give Hodari a better quality of life, improve his overall health and allow him to continue to thrive at Turtle Back Zoo. We knew there were risks when putting an animal of Hodari’s size under anesthesia, but we also knew repairing his teeth would be more beneficial for him.”
Hodari was one of four Masai giraffes who came to Turtle Back Zoo in December 2015 as part of the new three-acre Giraffe House in the African Adventure area. Hodari came from South Carolina; the other three giraffes came from Florida and San Diego. The exhibit also features animals found in the African savanna, such as eland, whistling ducks, ostriches and tortoises. The exhibit is the largest at Turtle Back Zoo and cost approximately $7 million to develop.