Oklahoma City Zoo announces death of oldest female giraffe in a United States zoo

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OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma City Zoo announced the death of the oldest female giraffe in a United State zoo Thursday.

Born in 1985, Rothschild’s giraffe Ursula, 32, died at the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden on Wednesday, Dec. 20 at 5 p.m.

Ursula, OKC Zoo (photo by Gillian Lang)

Ursula spent 31 years at the OKC Zoo and was the oldest giraffe in a United States zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

The median life expectancy for female giraffes is 19.5 years. During the last years of her life, Ursula was afflicted with chronic arthritis, particularly in her lower limb joints, making everyday activities such as walking and standing increasingly difficult and painful.

Veterinarians prescribed a medication that slowed the progress of the disease and applied other treatments, including cold laser therapy to reduce inflammation and encourage the growth of healthy cells, in an effort to improve Ursula’s quality of life.

After it became apparent that these palliative treatments were becoming less effective and her level of pain was increasing, the difficult decision was made by veterinary and caretaker teams to humanely euthanize Ursula.

Caretakers remember Ursula as inquisitive and watchful, even into her geriatric years, and while initially skeptical of new people, extremely trusting after her approval had been earned.

Her favorite hobby was finding sticks in her habitat (Ursula was rarely seen without a stick in her mouth) and she loved eating daylilies, a special treat as part of her enrichment activities.

In her three decades at the OKC Zoo, Ursula inspired and educated millions of guests, left an indelible mark on her caretakers and contributed greatly to continuation of her species.

During her life, Ursula produced eight offspring, including Bogy, a Zoo fan-favorite, who passed in 2015.

Other herd members at the OKC Zoo include Noel, 28, Ellie, 17, Julu, 2 and Ketara, 1.