Giraffe Calf, Yao, Loses Valiant Battle Against Bone Infection

February 25 – April 19, 2013

Following an aggressive course of treatment since mid-March, it is with a deep sense of loss and profound sadness that the Houston Zoo reports that Yao, a 7 week old Masai giraffe calf has lost a valiant battle against a life threatening bone infection.

This morning, Yao was sedated and Dr. Wyatt Winchell, an equine orthopedic specialist who has treated Yao since diagnosing the bone infection and the Zoo hospital staff x-rayed his right shoulder and left hip.  “The x-rays indicated Yao’s right shoulder had stabilized,” said Dr. Winchell. “However, the images also indicated degenerative joint disease and cartilage loss around the area of the hip joint, a secondary effect of the original bacterial infection which had shown indications of being resolved,” Dr. Winchell added.

“The antibiotics had performed as expected to control the bacterial infection,” said Houston Zoo Director of Veterinary Services Dr. Joe Flanagan.  “In consultation with Dr. Winchell, we determined the resulting degenerative joint disease and cartilage loss in the left hip would mean a reduced quality of life marked by life-long chronic pain,” Said Dr. Flanagan.

After consultation between Dr. Winchell, Zoo veterinarians, John Register and the giraffe keepers, Yao was humanely euthanized this morning.

One week after his birth on February 25, Houston Zoo giraffe keepers and Zoo veterinarians noticed Yao was favoring his left rear leg. Yao and his mother Neema were kept in a separate stall for observation.  When the limp gradually became worse, the Zoo veterinary staff x-rayed the leg, found no evidence of bone damage, and placed Yao on antibiotics and other medication including anti-inflammatory analgesics.

When Yao was observed limping on his right front leg, the Zoo brought in equine orthopedic specialist Dr. Wyatt Winchell of Brazos Valley Equine Hospital who determined that Yao had developed a bone infection in his right shoulder. Immediately an aggressive treatment regime began that included stronger antibiotics, arthroscopic surgery to remove infected bone, regular saline flushes of the joint and twice daily physical therapy.

Since mid-March, Yao’s course of treatment included analgesics, twice daily antibiotic treatments, regular saline flushes to remove infected fluid from his right front shoulder, and twice daily physical therapy – walks in an outdoor paddock next to the McGovern Giraffe Exhibit giraffe barn with the giraffe keepers.

“Yao was always very calm and cooperative during the procedures,” said Houston Zoo Hoofed Stock Supervisor John Register.  “We couldn’t have asked for a better patient,” said Register.  “They were performed in the giraffe barn where his mother Neema could watch from an adjacent ‘bedroom’ and she would occasionally bend her head down and lick his face during the procedures,” added Register.

“Neema was a first time mother,” said Register.  “But if there was one good thing that came out of all this it was that Neema was a wonderful, caring and loving mother to Yao. We’re certain she will demonstrate the same qualities with her future calves,” he added.

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