Zoo Knoxville giraffe is dying, officials say

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Amber Howard and Petty Grieve work to train male giraffe "Jumbe" to present his hoof and be touched in 2017. (Photo submitted by Zoo Knoxville)

Some folks might be surprised to learn that one of the oldest giraffes in the United States makes his home at Zoo Knoxville.

Unfortunately, 19-year-old Jumbe’s life is drawing to a close despite the best efforts of zoo caretakers and a team of veterinary experts, officials said Thursday. 

Hiss treatment team has shifted to hospice care and they are now primarily focused on ensuring that he’s comfortable during his last days.

“We have a responsibility to our animals to make sure we provide them with the optimal quality of life from birth to death,” said Phil Colclough, Zoo Knoxville’s director of animal care, conservation and education.

“With that responsibility comes days when we have to make difficult but compassionate decisions such as this,” Colclough continued. “We will carefully weigh all considerations to make the right decision at the right time, but ultimately our focus is to let Jumbe leave this world with dignity and surrounded by those who cared most for him.”

Jumbe came to Zoo Knoxville in 2011 on the recommendation of the Giraffe Species Survival Plan, a collaborative effort of zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to ensure a genetically healthy and protected population of giraffe remain in human care as wild populations are declining and endangered, according to Zoo Knoxville spokesperson Tina Rolen. 

Jumbe sired two offspring: a female born in 2019 who was named Bea, and a male named J.J. who was born in 2020.

Last year, Rolen explained, Jumbe began to show signs of pain when he moved. His caretakers and a team from the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine were initially able to manage his pain with medication, but they have now reached the maximum dosage of pain medication they can safely use.  

“There are no further treatment options,” Rolen said. “The decision to transition to hospice care was made when Jumbe began having difficulty lying down to rest at night.  At present, his care team is making him as comfortable as possible and closely monitoring his quality of life.  When it becomes apparent that Jumbe’s medications are no longer managing his pain, the decision will be made to humanely euthanize him to avoid prolonged suffering.”

Published on October 21, 2022.