Beloved giraffe at zoo on the mend
Overcomes urinary obstruction, but risky surgery still possible
A 13-year-old Masai giraffe at Franklin Park Zoo is having the battle of his life.
A team of more than two dozen zoo staff and large animal veterinarians from Tufts University gathered at the zoo yesterday to attempt to save Beau, who has been suffering from a urinary obstruction.
The 18-foot-tall animal had shown abnormal behavior on Thursday, and Dr. Eric Baitchman, the zoo’s director of veterinary services, said he was not urinating, which could quickly become a deadly situation.
After sedating Beau yesterday inside the barn adjacent to the zoo’s giraffe pen, the veterinary team injected him with aggressive amounts of diuretics, antiinflammatory medications, and steroids as a last-ditch attempt to avoid surgery.
Finally, the giraffe began to show signs of improvement.
“We were all laughing, and crying,’’ Baitchman said. “We were ecstatic about seeing him urinate.’’
But Beau is not out of the woods yet. If he develops another obstruction, the zoo’s only choice will be surgery. And if he undergoes surgery, the prognosis is not good: Fourteen male giraffes in the United States have had the same procedure, and all of them died during the operation.
“The anesthesia itself is extremely high-risk’’ because of the animals’ extremely long necks, said John Linehan, chief executive of Zoo New England. “That’s a very complicated factor, in terms of air flowing into the lungs and the distance between the nose and mouth and the lungs and getting blood up there to the brain.’’
Still, the staff is holding out hope the giraffe will pull through.
Beau has done it before.
In 2004, he became one of the zoo’s most famous residents after surviving wasting syndrome, a common and incurable metabolic disorder among giraffes. He is the first known Masai giraffe to have survived with the condition. If he recovers, Beau could have several years ahead of him. Masai giraffes have a natural life span of 18 to 21 years, said Linehan.
At one point, Beau was 600 pounds underweight. But he bounced back and with the help of a new special diet he had three calves with his mate of 10 years, Jana, the only other giraffe at the zoo.
“He’s a guy that everybody in the zoo has such an emotional bond with,’’ Linehan said. “We all have some special attachment to Beau.’’
Perhaps no one has more of an attachment than Autumn Faucher of Pelham, N.H.
In 2004, the then-9-year-old girl made headlines after she raised thousands of dollars to help defray the cost of Beau’s medical care and expensive new diet.
Autumn first heard about Beau’s story the year before, when she saw the sickly giraffe on the television. She saved up her Christmas and birthday money, went door-to-door asking for money, and collected spare change during lunch at school, all in Beau’s name.
In December 2004, she was able to meet him.
“Hi Beau,’’ she squealed, as a reporter looked on. “I love you,’’ she whispered.
Now she’s 16 and a junior at Pelham High School. It has been a few months since she last saw Beau - she’s busy with school, volleyball and lacrosse practices, shifts at the local grocery store, and practicing to get her driver’s license.
But, she said, the giraffe is still an important part of her life.
“My mom called me earlier today, and it was a little heartbreaking. Not just a little - a lot,’’ said Autumn said, who burst into sobs at the news.
Her parents are worried about the giraffe, too. Her mother, Charlene Faucher, said she carried rosary beads all day yesterday for Beau’s recovery.
In many ways, Faucher said, she believes Beau was fated to enter her daughter’s life.
Autumn was born with a cleft lip, and often had to visit Children’s Hospital Boston for surgeries when she was in elementary school. Visiting Beau afterward was always her treat after hospital visits. She wanted to help Beau through his illness, she said, because she knows how supportive her parents were when she was sick.
“He was definitely a big part of my childhood - a big part of my life,’’ Autumn said. “I don’t really know how to explain it. He made me want to accomplish something when I was younger.’’