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Kansas City zookeepers tell of special bonds with animals after giraffe death

Changes made to giraffe shelter
After giraffe loss, zookeepers share strong bonds with animals
Posted at 8:15 AM, Mar 15, 2019

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City Zoo employees are mourning the loss of one of its giraffes.

The nine-year-old adult giraffe, Hamisi died in late February, after sustaining an acute spinal chord injury in his behind-the-scenes bedroom.

The giraffe barn, built in 1995, had no recorded incidents, but after Hamisi's death, modifications have been made to the shelter.

Senior Director of Zoo Operations Sean Putney said officials looked at all areas where they felt a giraffe could get stuck and covered them up.

"Just a place where a giraffe could get themselves into trouble, get their heads in a place where that might not be able to get back out — anything that we thought might be problematic. Again, never having this issue before, we didn't think we had any issues before," Putney said. "But since we did, we want to make sure that nothing's going to happen again."

Putney said modifications took about a week to complete.

"We looked at it and felt like we thought we were sure of the repairs," Putney said. "Maintenance came in, made the repairs and we actually had them do a couple areas afterwards, and we rechecked them and thought, 'Well, just to be on the safe side, one more thing,' and now we're very confident with that."

Right now, the zoo is putting together a species survival guide on its giraffe barn with those modifications to send to other zoo across the country.

"We have some before and after pictures of the modifications, so we'll make sure that everybody gets those so they don't go through the same thing that we did," Putney said.

Zookeepers with the Kansas City Zoo said they form strong bonds with the 1,700 animals they have.

"We see these animals daily," said Lindsay Class, zookeeper and animal assistant manager of discover zone team. "So just like with pets sometimes, the more you spend time with an animal, the bigger the bond's going to be."

From lemurs, to orangutan and snakes, Class said daily interaction keeps the bond strong.

"You start to think of them almost like a friend," Class said. "You see them everyday, you talk to them, even though they're not talking back to you and so it is a lot of time we invest in our animal."

With the daily training they have, zookeepers see that each animal is different.

Amy Sarno works with the orangutans, and said each of them has their own unique personality.

"If you think about it, we spend more time with these animals than we do with our own family or our pets at home so you really do build close bonds with them and they do become apart of your family, so it's emotional highs for sure when you have those breakthroughs," Sarno said.

There can be emotional lows too, such as when an animal dies.

"When you have those losses unfortunately that is part of the job, the hardest part of the job but if you didn't have those connections and weren't that close, it wouldn't be that hard so it's definitely worth it," Sarno said.

With the ups and downs, zookeepers said it's the animals and the community that makes them stronger.

"We have a really supportive community here," Sarno said. "We're all kind of like a big family, so we support each other when we have those losses."