Giraffe dies at Reid Park Zoo

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TUCSON, Ariz. -- A popular animal at the Reid Park Zoo in Tucson is dead after apparently being fed toxic vegetation by a zoo worker. 

The zoo announced Wednesday that "Watoto", a male giraffe, died Tuesday night.  Watoto was six years old and had been at the zoo since May, 2007.

In a news release, the zoo said it was standard practice to feed the giraffes green trimmings from surrounding vegetation and "there are standards and protocols in place to ensure the trimmings are safe for the animals."

But the vegetation fed to two giraffes Tuesday contained oleander, a vegetation toxic to many animals.

While both apparently consumed the oleander, only Watoto quickly displayed negative symptoms.  The zoo says he refused food and water, laid down and wouldn't get up and was generally lethargic.  They realized by late afternoon he would not improve.

"This is a difficult loss for the Reid Park Zoo Family," said zoo administrator Susan Basford. "This was a horrible and unfortunate accident that resulted in the loss of an animal.  Our staff is broken-hearted."

"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," Basford also said.

Zoo officials are keeping the second giraffe under "careful observation" and veterinary care to see if it develops any symptoms.

The release said pathlogists will conduct a full analysis to determine the official cause of death. It also said the actions and circumstances in the case "are being thoroughly reviewed to determine what happened and to see if protocols need to be improved to ensure the health and safety of our animals."