Baby giraffe died of ‘neck trauma’ at Fresno zoo, officials say

A baby giraffe that died this month at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo suffered “neck trauma” after becoming entangled in a wire barrier during a special event for donors, zoo officials said.

The 1-month-old male giraffe was running around a multi-species animal exhibit on Oct. 11, when he hit a metal barrier surrounding a group of trees within the exhibit, said Ciara Norton, a zoo spokeswoman.

The barrier, she said, was comprised of poles with wire attached several feet off the ground. The giraffe was “frolicking” and running when he hit a pole, knocking the wire loose and injuring his neck, Norton said.

Zoo officials, she said, are still awaiting the results of an off-site necropsy. But they felt confident that the cause of death was neck trauma.


The giraffe was the first animal born on the Fresno Chaffee Zoo’s new African Adventure exhibit, which opened to the public last week and provides more space for the animals. The giraffe, which had not yet been named, was born Sept. 9 to two parents who were born at the zoo in 1994, Norton said.

The fatal accident happened during a VIP preview of the new exhibit, Norton said.

The zoo has been criticized by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals for the event.

“If Fresno Chaffee Zoo’s top priority were animals and not donors, it would never have thrown a raucous party right next to a group of nervous prey animals whose natural instinct is to run away from stress and danger,” PETA said in a statement. “That instinct likely killed this baby giraffe, as it has with others who have broken their necks on enclosure walls.”


Norton said the characterization of the event as a wild party was untrue and that it was a free event, not a fundraiser. There were about 300 donors and city officials at the preview, which was the first of several events leading up to the exhibit’s opening. Some of those events, she said, had thousands of people.

It was a quiet, intimate evening, not a loud party. Our staff is obviously devastated. I was crying. I saw it; it was horrible. Our staff is just as upset as everyone else.

Ciara Norton, a zoo spokeswoman

“It was a quiet, intimate evening, not a loud party,” Norton said. “Our staff is obviously devastated. I was crying. I saw it; it was horrible. Our staff is just as upset as everyone else.”

The zoo has removed all of the barriers like the one the giraffe got tangled in, Norton said. Those types of barriers, she said, have been used at the zoo for many years without incident. The baby giraffe, she said, had spent time in the new exhibit and was familiar with the grounds.


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The Fresno Bee reported that a giraffe died at the zoo last year after becoming “tangled in a feeding enrichment device in its sleeping quarters.” Scott Barton, the zoo director, told the newspaper that in that case, the giraffe had used the feeder for two years before the fatal entanglement.

The African Adventure exhibit, according to the Bee, is a $56-million, 13-acre display of the African savanna that was paid for with a county sales tax measure.

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