Oakland giraffe famous for her custom-made coat dies

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — An elderly giraffe famous for sporting a custom-made coat to weather the winter cold has died.

Oakland Zoo officials said Tiki, which is short for T’Keyah, was suffering from ringbone arthritis and other medical issues and was euthanized Nov. 2. She was one of the oldest living giraffes in captivity.

The grandmother was 28 years old, or about 95 in “giraffe years.” She was born at the zoo.

(Oakland Zoo)

Tiki was outfitted with a custom-made coat in 2008 when she was already considered geriatric by giraffe standards. Her bones ached and she needed extra protection to socialize with herd mates outside her heated barn.

Zoo staff described Tiki as gentle and patient, and said she vastly expanded researchers’ understanding of giraffe behavior and intelligence.

Here is the full statement from the zoo:

At 28 years of age, Tiki reached 95 in ‘equivalent giraffe years;’ her impact on researchers’ understanding of giraffe behavior and intelligence, and on both her own zookeepers and those around the world, is tremendous.

Oakland, CA…November 16, 2017 – For decades the public has enjoyed stories about Tiki (short for T’Keyah), most notably her need for a custom-made coat back in 2008, when she was already considered geriatric by giraffe standards and needed protection from the cold in order to socialize with her herd-mates outside her heated barn during winter.

Born at Oakland Zoo in 1989, Tiki was one of the oldest living giraffes in captivity. In recent months, ongoing medical issues, including ringbone arthritis that effected her feet, back and neck, compromised her quality of life to the point where Zoo veterinarians made the somber decision that euthanizing her would be the humane decision under her existing condition.

Tiki proved herself a great mother and grandmother, birthing five healthy calves over the years. Two of the calves have moved to other zoos, while the other three have remained at Oakland Zoo (daughter, Twiga, and two sons, Benghazi and Balthazar). Not only had she raised five calves on her own, she also nurtured and helped raise seven additional calves within her herd here.

On her impact on the ‘giraffe community’ of researchers, scientists, and zookeepers worldwide, Tiki began developing medical issues at the age of fourteen that required Oakland Zoo zookeepers to think ‘outside the box’ of traditional giraffe management in animal care. An unprecedented training methodology evolved that was previously assumed giraffes were incapable of learning. Tiki demonstrated that giraffes are smart, very much capable of learning, and practicing patience – she would voluntarily participate in hoof trimming, and for her neck and back issues resulting from arthritis she received a combination of regular acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage therapy and traditional Western medicine.

“T’Keyah was unique, everyone who met her fell in love with her instantly. Through her patience and gentle presence, she was a great teacher to us all. She broke the barriers of what were standard practices in giraffe care. Articles were published in countries around the world, shedding new light on what was possible for giraffes in human care. She’ll be deeply missed,” said Jessica Real, Senior Giraffe Keeper at Oakland Zoo.

As the training system developed with Tiki was shared with the zookeeping community around the world beginning many years ago, the standard of giraffe care began to slowly evolve in zoos in the U.S. – and as far as Japan and Uganda. Since her passing, a hashtag, #thanksTiki, was created and is being used on a giraffe zookeeper Facebook group to show how Tiki influenced giraffe training at other zoos.

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