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Roger Williams Park Zoo Performs Successful Procedure on Giraffe

(Updated February 6)

Veterinarian team observing and working on shaving giraffe Jaffa's hoof while other vet support staff monitor his vitals.

A team of 45 animal care specialists assisted with the treatment

PROVIDENCE, RI (June 20, 2023) Jaffa, a 12-year-old male giraffe at Roger Williams Park Zoo, is recovering from a procedure to care for his chronic hoof issues, a common finding in older giraffes. Jaffa, who stands 18 feet tall and weighs 2800 pounds, was born at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in 2010 to Sukari (mom) and Griffin (dad). 

Veterinary staff from the Columbus Zoo, Omaha Zoo, Zoo New England, and the Tufts University veterinary anesthesia department, along with farrier Steve Foxworth of the Zoo Hoofstock Trim Program and his team, worked with the Zoo veterinary team and keepers during this complicated procedure. A large animal technical rope/lifting expert was also brought in to assist if needed.

Previously, the Zoo’s animal care team attempted to find a less invasive solution and brought in a veterinarian and a giraffe trainer from the International Center for the Care & Conservation of Giraffe in hopes of trimming his feet without chemical immobilization.   Two of the Zoo’s keepers also participated in a giraffe training course from this organization.  Ultimately, the team determined that a corrective hoof trim under anesthesia, with access to all four of Jaffa’s legs, would be the most appropriate treatment for his condition.  Despite the need for a more aggressive procedure in this case, our animal care team is still working diligently to train all giraffes for future voluntary hoof trim procedures.

Though the primary goal of the procedure was to trim his overgrown hooves, this also offered an opportunity to conduct full physical and dental examinations, blood collection, and leg radiographs.  The Zoo team has determined that Jaffa is in good overall health, other than arthritis which is common in aging giraffes. His foot overgrowth was corrected, and no other serious hoof issues were identified, but ongoing maintenance including possible future procedures will be required to ensure his long-term hoof health.

Like human fingernails, the outer part of a hoof called the hoof wall, is made of keratin. Like human nails, hooves continuously grow and benefit from regular trimming. The goal is always to get the hooves in the ideal shape, which allows them to bear their weight properly between all feet.  If a giraffe is bearing their weight improperly due to the shape of their hooves, this can have impacts on its gait, how its muscles are used, and how much strain is put on its bones and joints.

Anesthesia in giraffes is considered a higher-risk procedure, so special precautions and preparations were undertaken to ensure the best possible outcome. A holding stall was completely padded with foam mats and bedded with sand to prevent injury during induction and recovery. Ropes and lifting devices were prepared in case assistance was needed for Jaffa to stand. A padded neck board was used during the procedure to keep Jaffa’s head and neck supported and elevated. Several teams of keepers worked to massage and manipulate his legs and neck to prevent muscle cramping. Jaffa’s breathing was supported with the use of a specialized ventilator to provide oxygen and lung inflation.

The hard work and preparations of the animal care team were successful. After the reversal drugs were administered, Jaffa was able to stand without needing additional assistance and is recovering well.

“Fully anesthetizing a giraffe is a complicated and risky procedure requiring coordination between many zoo departments and benefiting from outside specialists. In Jaffa’s case, his immense size and chronic foot condition made the procedure even more challenging. We are grateful for the collaboration and coordination between many zoo departments and a host of outside specialists that allowed this procedure to be a success,” said Dr. Kim Wojick, the Zoo’s senior veterinarian. 

Amy Roberts, director for animal programs adds, “We are very thankful for the hard work of our team and the outside consultants who worked together to achieve a successful outcome for Jaffa.  The procedure lasted just under 2 hours; the extensive planning and assistance from a team of over 45 people will allow Jaffa to live his best life with us for the rest of his years. And, if we need to repeat the procedure at some point, the success we experienced will make it that much easier in the future. “

Roger Williams Park Zoo is Rhode Island’s number one outdoor family and tourist attraction, and a leader in conservation efforts undertaken by a zoo of its size. As leaders in conservation and animal care – we create engaging experiences that empower guests to join us in conserving wildlife and wild places. Roger Williams Park Zoo is supported and managed by the Rhode Island Zoological Society and is owned by the City of Providence.


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