Gemina the “crooked-necked giraffe,” one of the Santa Barbara Zoo’s most recognizable and beloved animals, died Wednesday. Gemina was 21.
“We observed a decline in her appetite over the past two weeks and she had stopped eating all together,” said Alan Varsik, the zoo’s director of Animal Programs and Conservation. “The welfare of our animals is the No. 1 concern here at the Santa Barbara Zoo, and her declining condition appeared to affect her quality of life,” Varsik said. “We did everything we could, but the time came when we had to make the humane decision. She was off exhibit in the giraffe barn when she died.”
Zoo personnel euthanized Gemina.
A necropsy has been performed on Gemina, though the results will not be available for several weeks. It is believed that her final ailment was not related to her neck condition.
Her demise is consistent with the challenges of old age,” Varsik said.
“Though a few giraffes in captivity have been known to live into their late 20s, reaching age 21 is considered an achievement,” said Rich Block, the zoo’s director and CEO. “She was a great animal ambassador, showing that differences can be accepted and even celebrated. She will be missed.”
This popular animal recently celebrated her 21st birthday in style with a serenade by Zoo Campers, a “giraffe-sized” birthday card, and a special treat of acacia, which was her favorite food. A humorous, zoo-produced video about Gemina was created at that time and can be viewed on the zoo’s Web page, www.sbzoo.org. The Web page also has a place for the public to post remembrances about Gemina and to make donations in her memory.
Gemina was born July 16, 1986, at the San Diego Wild Animal Park to Ginger and Black Jack, who were both born at the San Diego Zoo. She has lived at the Santa Barbara Zoo since she was about a year old. Her neck condition began when she was about 3 and it developed over the years, though the cause is unknown. She had been X-rayed and examined by the zoo’s veterinarian, but the findings were not conclusive.
“She received quality care throughout her entire life,” Varsik said. “Gemina led a very typical existence and was treated as a normal member of the herd. She did not appear to be in discomfort and exhibited normal giraffe behavior.
A generation of Central California school children has grown up with Gemina and made her a popular local figure. Gemina was the only nonhuman in a list of internationally known Santa Barbara area figures that included Nobel laureates, and celebrities such as John Cleese, Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt in a 2006 Santa Barbara News-Press story.
“Why does that giraffe have a crooked neck?” was the most asked question at the zoo for many years (asked more often than “Where’s the bathroom?”). Gemina also acquired a number of national and local television appearances. In 2005, she was featured in the television show “Miracle Workers” as the source of inspiration for a young boy with severe scoliosis. Last year, residents on a local radio station poll voted Gemina first in a list of “Seven Wonders of Santa Barbara.”
The Santa Barbara Zoo’s giraffe herd remains on exhibit and is composed of one male, Taru, 15, and two females: Sulima, 17; and Eritrea, 7. They are all Rothschild’s, or Baringo, giraffes, which are found in eastern Uganda and in western Kenya.
There are no plans to expand the herd at this time, according to zoo officials.