MEMPHIS, TENN - On Tuesday, April 9, Memphis Zoo excitedly welcomed new baby giraffe Ali to the herd -- just days after Wendy gave birth to a male calf named Kiburi. Delivery went well, and Ali was up and nursing from mom Angela Kate within an hour of birth.
On Wednesday afternoon we performed the neonatal exam, during which we weighed Ali (109 lbs), determined her sex (girl!) and took a blood sample to ensure she had nursed and was healthy. She checked out great and she and Angela Kate were behaving appropriately. On Thursday, we introduced Ali to several of the other giraffe in the herd including our other youngster Kiburi when we put Angela Kate and Ali out on exhibit. Keepers noticed throughout the day that Angela Kate seemed agitated and wasn’t allowing Ali much chance to nurse, so the decision was made to bring them in overnight to a private stall. Unfortunately, Friday morning we noticed Angela Kate’s agitation had not abated and she repeatedly walked away from Ali whenever she made an attempt to nurse. This was an unusual situation given their positive bonding in the first 24 hours after birth, so staff decided to introduce Panya (Angela Kate’s first calf, born in 2017) to the pair in an attempt to calm the mother.
First thing Saturday morning keepers quickly noticed Ali limping and the decision was made to separate her from her mother after observing a lack of appropriate maternal care. We brought Ali into the barn and Memphis Zoo senior veterinarian Dr. Felicia Knightly radiographed the calf’s front right leg and diagnosed a fracture of the cannon bone above her fetlock (ankle). Local Memphian Dr. Jennifer Dunlap, owner of Dunlap Equine Services, responded immediately to assist the team in stabilizing Ali’s leg and helped us connect with Dr. Alan Ruggles at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, KY. Dr. Ruggles specializes in equine orthopedic surgery and lameness. After examining the radiographs Saturday afternoon, he recommended that the fracture be repaired surgically with bone plates and screws to restore normal function as quick as possible as is done in similar injuries in foals.
After the leg was stabilized with bandages, we had approximately 24 hours to try to get Ali on a bottle while preparing for the six-hour road trip to Lexington for surgery Monday morning. Keepers worked all day with the calf while carpenters prepared a plywood box lined with foam for the drive to Lexington. Ali’s bloodwork looked good even though she still hadn't taken a bottle, so the team got on the road with her. One staff member drove while two accompanied Ali in the back for the entire journey – ensuring she remained calm and stable on her feet. The team arrived around 10 p.m., unloaded Ali and settled her in.
Surgery preparation started at 6:30 Monday morning with Dr. Ruggles’ surgical team consisting of himself, Dr. Liz Elzer, Dr. Ali Fromme and Dr. Lauren Richardson. Additionally, Dr. John Hubbell’s team oversaw anesthesia with Nicole Bone, the head anesthesia technician. Ms. Stephanie Welsh was the head operating room technician and Dr. Felicia Knightly participated throughout the procedure with her knowledge and experience specific to giraffes. Ali was anesthetized and transported to one of the orthopedic surgical suites where thousands of horses have had surgery since Rood and Riddle’s inception in 1986.
A team of ten doctors and technicians worked on our calf for the approximately 2-hour surgery to expose and ultimately reduce Ali’s fracture into alignment and apply two stainless steel plates and 21 bone screws. Ali received state of the art implants using what are called locking compression plates including a newly developed equine locking T plate from the team at AOVET. All the implants for Ali were generously donated by Depuy-Synthes Vet, the manufacturer of the implant systems. After the fracture repair procedure was finished, Ali was placed in a bandage to protect the surgical incision and reduce post-operative swelling. The stability of the implants used helped the surgical team avoid the use of a cast which would have required subsequent anesthesia to remove. In addition, the implants used can remain in place and will not affect the natural growth of her leg.
Ali was returned to her stall and was on her feet by 12:30 p.m. As she still had not taken a bottle, the team focused on managing Ali’s pain and monitoring her glucose levels while increasing her body temperature to where it might be safe for her to attempt to eat. Everyone’s patience was rewarded Monday evening when she began suckling and ate her first bottle of formula around 10 p.m. Staff stayed with Ali through the night and offered bottles which she readily consumed.
In the days since surgery, Ali has been monitored closely. Veterinarians, interns, technicians and countless other Rood and Riddle staff have been checking in regularly to ensure she remains comfortable and is recovering appropriately. She is currently receiving antibiotics and pain medicine while Memphis Zoo staff have remained with her around the clock to feed and care for her during this critical time. Despite these first few critical days being filled with bandage changes, radiographs, temperature and glucose checks and countless bottle feeds, Ali is thriving. She is engaged with her countless visitors and seems to be enjoying her celebrity status as the sole giraffe to ever visit Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital.
Memphis Zoo staff has chosen the name Ali for the calf in honor of Dr. Alan Ruggles, his technician Alex Arnold and Dr. Ali Fromme - three key staff members at Rood and Riddle who have contributed significantly and selflessly to our calf’s recovery this week.
The staff who readily accompanied our calf on what became a week-long, adrenaline-filled marathon are exhausted, as are the individuals that worked countless extra hours to cover for our absence. Ali is now back at Memphis Zoo on stall rest and we look forward to having her join the herd in the near future.
By Courtney Janney, Curator of Large Mammals, Memphis Zoo
Memphis Zoo would like to extend a very special thanks to everyone at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital for their incredible work in getting Ali back on her hooves. Ali's recovery would not have been possible without their quick action and expert knowledge.