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Jafari, right, and Eleah, left, sit in their enclosure in July 2006 at the Greater Vancouver Zoo in Aldergrove, B.C. (Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail)
Jafari, right, and Eleah, left, sit in their enclosure in July 2006 at the Greater Vancouver Zoo in Aldergrove, B.C. (Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail)

Latest giraffe death at zoo prompts SPCA review Add to ...

The BC Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is reviewing the sudden death of a giraffe at the Greater Vancouver Zoo – the third premature death of a giraffe at the facility in a year.

The society confirmed it is making inquiries into the matter on Monday, a day after staff at the Aldergrove zoo found Jafari, a 12-year-old giraffe believed to be healthy, dead in its barn. The BC SPCA is the only animal welfare organization in the province that can recommend charges to Crown counsel and enforce laws relating to animal cruelty.

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Shawn Eccles, manager of cruelty investigations at the BC SPCA, said officers have so far spoken with several people, including the veterinarian who conducted the necropsy, the results of which are not yet available. “We will also be attending to check on the other animals that are there just to ensure that everything is being done properly,” he said.

The Vancouver Humane Society submitted an official complaint to the BC SPCA regarding the death on Monday as well.

“What’s disturbing to us is that the last two deaths, necropsies were done, but the zoo said they were inconclusive,” said VHS spokesman Peter Fricker. “Now we have another giraffe dying prematurely and unexpectedly, with no apparent previous health conditions. We think it’s beyond bad luck or coincidence that this is happening. Obviously there’s a problem keeping giraffes healthy in captivity on the west coast of Canada.”

Giraffes can live around 25 years in captivity.

Last November, Jafari’s mate, a 23-year-old giraffe named Eleah, and offspring, a three-year-old named Amryn, died within days of each other.

Animal care staff discovered Jafari dead at around 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, according to a news release issued by the zoo. Jafari arrived at the Greater Vancouver Zoo in late 2001, at the age of six months, from Quebec’s Granby Zoo.

Including two giraffes that died at Langley’s Mountain View Conservation Centre in December, 2009, five giraffes have died prematurely in Metro Vancouver in the past few years. Lorie Chortyk, general manager of community relations at the BC SPCA, says the society is “absolutely opposed” to keeping wild and exotic animals in captivity.

Jody Henderson, general manager for the zoo, called it “the saddest thing in the world” to lose an animal and expressed frustration with the accusations of critics.

“If people think we’re here for any other reason than to care for animals, they have the wrong impression of us completely,” she said, questioning how it would be possible for Jafari to live at the zoo for 12 years, and Eleah 23, with no health issues if staff had cared for them improperly. She stressed the animals had a heated barn and ate specialized food designed for giraffes living in a northern climate.

“Animals die, unfortunately, on a daily basis in the wild – you just don’t see it,” she said. “In the zoos, and in aquariums, we’re on public display. Of course, not everyone likes zoos and aquariums and that’s fine, but we do have a purpose. I strongly believe in our purpose.”

The Greater Vancouver Zoo has come under scrutiny numerous times in the past decade. In June, 2006, for example, a baby giraffe died eight days after it was born, raising the question among critics of why the zoo decided to breed an older giraffe that had never before given birth.

The same year, the zoo was charged with animal cruelty for failing to provide a baby hippopotamus with proper housing – the first charge of its kind for a major Canadian zoo. Hazina, the baby hippo that found fame after appearing in a Telus Christmas advertising campaign, spent 21 months living in isolation in a temporary, concrete pen. (The Crown dropped the charge the following year, saying it would not be in the public interest to proceed with a prosecution.)

In 2009, four zebras died after two cape buffalo were put in their enclosure. It was later learned the zebras had succumbed to exertional myopathy, a muscle disease that occurs when animals are chased or stressed.

A 2003 report by the VHS and Zoocheck Canada concluded the zoo needed “a major change in direction” and offered a list of recommendations, including gradually moving away from its current function of a zoo and becoming a sanctuary for native species.

“They refused and they wanted to carry on displaying exotic species,” Mr. Fricker said.

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