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Colorado zoo mourns loss of reticulated giraffe

Msichana was well-known to zoo guests as a social ambassador with her signature tongue-out appearance.
Credit: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is mourning the loss of one of its giraffes.

The southern Colorado zoo said its nearly 21-year-old female giraffe Msichana was humanely euthanized Wednesday.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo said after months of successful treatment for age-related issues, Msichana's health declined quickly over her last two days.

Msichana [muh-SCHAW-nuh] was born at the Colorado Springs zoo in 2002, and had one male calf of her own, Kipawa, in 2013. Msichana was well-known to zoo guests with her signature tongue-out appearance.

The zoo said because Msichana was composed and confident, she was the herd’s welcome committee. New herd members would arrive and join her in a quiet part of the barn, and she was usually the first to meet newborn giraffe with their moms.

Being social animals, new giraffe herd members found comfort in Msichana’s presence, and they could learn their way around the barn and yard by following her guidance as they settled in. Zoo officials said when newborn calves were ready to start meeting other members of the herd, she was first – and even had sleepovers with moms and calves in the barn’s nursery stall.

The median life expectancy for giraffe in human care, according to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, is nearly 16 years. Msichana would have turned 21 on Sept. 21.

Credit: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

“There were a lot of reasons to admire Msichana, but I think we’re most grateful for her contributions to our herd and to our knowledge of giraffe care,” said Savannah Woods, animal keeper in African Rift Valley.

“She had a really special calm and nurturing demeanor. For calves and new giraffe, she made their first experience with us a safe one, and their relationships with her gave them the confidence to meet some of the more energetic giraffe in the herd. We could always count on Msichana to act as a ‘nanny,’ showing calves that other giraffe are friends, and helping new moms feel comfortable with their calves meeting other giraffe.”

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo said because she was a strong and social ambassador with guests, Msichana has helped hundreds of thousands of people make special connections with her species, during her time on the mountain.

“She was definitely sweet and gentle, but she was also assertive,” said Woods. “I was lucky to have all of my ‘firsts’ as a giraffe trainer with ‘Mishy Girl.’ Because she was so clear about communicating what she needed from us or didn’t want to do, she set the bar for individualizing care for animals. She showed us that we can’t train one giraffe and presume we know how to train all giraffe. They’re individuals, and they need individual training and care programs. We owe a lot of our ability to read animals’ behaviors to what she taught us.”

“One day, a few guests were feeding her lettuce in the barn and after a little while, I asked her to come over to train with me,” said Woods. “She turned her ears back toward me, clearly hearing me calling her, and then turned and looked at me. She was weighing her options. It was an easy decision and she turned right back to the guests and stayed with them. When they left, she came right over to train, but she let me know who was in charge, for sure. I love that she knew she could make that choice, and that she knew she could say ‘no’.”

“I would call it a once-in-a-lifetime relationship, and she was a once-in-a-lifetime giraffe,” said Woods.

Credit: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

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