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Binder Park Zoo Mourns Death of Beloved Giraffe

Binder Park Zoo sadly reports the death of Makena, a female reticulated giraffe. Makena or “Mak”, was 21 years old and the third oldest of the seven giraffes living at the zoo. She had been off exhibit most of the 2020 season after undergoing a series of procedures performed under anesthesia; stem cell therapy to treat arthritis in both front legs, a complete dental check and hoof trim in May 2020.  “Subsequent weekly laser therapy, systemic anti-inflammatories and a period of recovery improved her condition significantly, and we felt that Mak was on track to rejoin the herd on the savanna in the spring of 2021.” said the zoo’s veterinarian Dr. Kim Thompson.  The estimated lifespan of a giraffe is 15-25 years in the wild and even longer in captivity.

Mak was euthanized on Thursday, January 21, 2021 following a fall inside the giraffe barn. Camera footage revealed an accidental interaction with another giraffe that caused her to trip and fall. The other giraffe was not injured.

Makena was almost 18’ tall and weighed 1800 pounds, and unfortunately giraffe can sometimes sustain fatal injuries from a fall because of their significant height and weight.

Makena was born August 17, 1999 at the Columbus Zoo and arrived at Binder Park Zoo in April, 2005.   During her years at Binder Park Zoo, Makena birthed four calves; a male named Uti in 2009, now at the Columbus Zoo, Mkia Jibini, a female in 2012 now at the Sedgewick Zoo, male Hulka living at Binder Park Zoo, and Kijana, a female born in 2017 who transferred to Mesker Park Zoo in November 2020.

With a friendly, easy-going personality, Makena was the clear matriarch of the herd and zoo staff even referred to her as “Mama”.  Each morning of the zoo season, she would lead the other giraffe to the savanna lured by keepers with leaf-eater biscuits or browse – her two favorite snacks. “At 21 years old, Makena was still a smart and spunky girl who was a voluntary participant in her own medical care for things like ultrasounds, blood draws, and routine hoof care.” said Heather Kuikstra, a member of the keeper staff who worked with, and cared for Makena for six years. Kuikstra continued, “She was curious, and highly motivated to interact with her keepers, especially if it would result in her getting some snacks; she had a special look that she would give keepers and no one could resist giving her the treat she wanted.  “Mama” already is, and will be, greatly missed.”

A dependable presence at Twiga Overlook, Makena also captured the hearts of many guests who enjoyed feeding lettuce snacks to her and the other giraffes – a singular zoo experience designed to connect people to nature and inspire them to conserve. Binder Park Zoo began participating in the Giraffe Species Survival Plan (SSP) through the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) more than twenty years ago with the opening of the Wild Africa exhibit.

Reticulated giraffe are listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List, a system that classifies species at high risk of global extinction. According to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF), giraffe numbers have declined by almost 30% in just over three decades to approximately 111,000 in the wild. The combined impacts of habitat loss fragmentation and degradation, human population growth, poaching, disease, war and civil unrest threaten the remaining giraffe numbers and their distribution throughout Africa. Readers can find out more about giraffe conservation at www.giraffeconservation.org and may also provide support for Binder Park Zoo’s conservation efforts with a donation, purchase of a zoo membership or animal A.D.O.P.T at www.binderparkzoo.org .

Binder Park Zoo is currently closed to the public. May 1 will be the first day of the 2021 zoo season.