Giraffe dies after eating bags left by zoo visitors

Jabbar's friendliness may have led to his death: Autopsy finds plastic food bags in his digestive system.

August 20, 2012 00:37
2 minute read.
Jabbar, a friendly giraffe at the Hay Park zoo

Giraffe (370). (photo credit: Oren Goldberg)

A nine-year-old giraffe, loved by zookeepers for his friendly nature, was found dead on the ground of his plot at Hay Park in Kiryat Motzkin, near Haifa, on Saturday morning.

His friendliness may have led to his death, however, after an autopsy conducted by zoo veterinarians revealed plastic food bags in his digestive system, which he presumably received from visitors eager to feed him.

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“It was one of the worst deaths you have ever seen in your life – just seeing this big animal laying on the ground dead,” Oren Goldberg, the Hay Park zoo manager, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. “For me it was hard and for all of the workers in the zoo. People were crying. He’s been with us almost seven years – he’s part of the family.”

The giraffe, named Jabbar, received his name – which means “large” in Arabic – due to his height, because he reminded his keepers of American basketball star Kareem Abdul Jabbar, according to Goldberg.

Jabbar arrived from the Ramat Gan Safari to Hay Park, a 13-hectare zoo with over 1,000 animals from around the world, almost seven years ago, and for the past three years has been living with a female giraffe named Olga. The two giraffes had not produced any children.

“They found plastic bags that were inside his body,” Goldberg said. “Visitors gave him bags with food inside.”

While Goldberg said he realizes that whoever fed Jabbar probably had no bad intentions, yet signs all over the zoo forbid people from feeding the animals anything, even vegetables.

“Each animal has his own diet and we have to know how much food he eats each day,” he said.

Volunteers cruise the zoo all the time warning people not to feed the animals, but Goldberg said many visitors probably feel that if they pay admission they have the right to feed the animals.

There are fences all around the zoo rather than cement walls, to provide a direct view of the landscape to visitors to the relatively open cages – an openness that Goldberg said the zoo management may need to rethink.

Since the zoo staff is already doing “everything we can do,” the only new initiative that could help prevent such situations in the future is passing some kind of law that would impose a penalty upon those who feed the animals.

Following Jabbar’s death, MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) initiated a bill fining visitors who feed animals in the zoo NIS 5,000.

“The unnecessary death of this giraffe, like that of dozens of other animals in zoos every year as a result of their being fed by the public despite instructions [telling them not to do so], requires legislation that will set a fine that will be a deterrence and prevent such incidents from happening in the future,” Hasson said.

The Kadima MK plans to officially submit a bill when the Knesset reconvenes in October.

Although such legislation would help prevent more zoo animal deaths, it will not bring back the amiable Jabbar, who used to approach visitors very closely.

“He was very friendly – probably one of the things that was bad for him,” Goldberg said.

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