TUCSON, AZ (KOLD) - Reid Park Zoo handlers are fairly certain the toxic leaves of an oleander bush lead to Watoto the giraffe's death Tuesday night.
The animal's feed was somehow tainted with the poisonous leaves at the zoo, spokeswoman Vivian VanPeenan said in a release.
VanPeenan described how it is common practice for zoos to incorporate clippings from surrounding vegetation into the giraffe's feed. She added that there are procedures in place to ensure the safety of those clippings.
"This was a horrible and unfortunate accident that resulted in the loss of an animal," she said. "Our staff is broken-hearted."
An internal investigation into how oleander leaves wound up in the animal's feed is underway. An official cause of death still needs to be determined, but experts at the zoo have are "reasonably" certain the death is from the toxins in the oleander.
Two giraffes were exposed to the toxins, but only Watoto showed any signs of being sick Tuesday. Handlers noticed the animal was slow and without energy. He wasn't eating, either.
Fluid therapy and medication was administered to the animal with no effect, VanPeenan said.
It was during that initial stage of treatment when Watoto's heart stopped. After all emergency measures were exhausted, VanPeenan said, the animal died.
Zoo administrator Susan Basford said her staff did everything they could.
"Through the regrettable events that occurred, I also witnessed our staff at its best - professionals who care deeply about our animals, and who worked diligently as a team doing everything humanly possible to save an animal in our care."
Watoto is survived by 3 female giraffes at the zoo. Denver is under vet observation Wednesday. Texas and Elinor are out on exhibit currently.
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