Beloved giraffe Khama dies at Silver Springs park
Published: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 2:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 3:39 p.m.
OCALA – For the first time in more than 30 years, there are no giraffes at the Silver Springs attraction.
Khama, who was born at the theme park in June, 1987 and was a beloved fixture there ever since, was found dead Wednesday morning.
Wildlife Manager Joanne Zeliff said she was summoned to the giraffe enclosure by other staff. She had known Khama all his life, she said, feeding him by hand from his birth 25 years ago.
“He was special,” Zeliff said. “I raised him.”
She added Khama had not been sick or showing any sign of distress recently; numerous zoo and wildlife websites note that male giraffes in captivity can live 25 to 28 years.
“He lived a great, healthy life here,” Zeliff said. “It was a surprise to us.”
There’s been no determination by Palace Entertainment that runs the attraction whether to bring in any new giraffes, Marketing Director Brooks Jordan said. Khama’s body will be sent to the University of Florida for a necropsy to determine the cause of death.
The 18-foot-tall Khama, one of 55 giraffes born at the park in her 32 years there, “loved people,” Zeliff added. “He would be more upset if he never saw another person at the park.”
He and his mate, Kimba, who died at Silver Springs 13 months ago, had eight offspring together; the young were sent off to other zoos, Zeliff said.
Online reaction to Khama’s death was immediate and emotional.
“One of my favorite reasons for going to Silver Springs,” wrote Bryon Hart. “He was such a gentle creature and very friendly.”
“I loved this giraffe,” wrote Christina Harn. “I remember the day he was born. We were at the park the day he was born. It was awesome to watch. I was grossed out but couldn’t look away. It’s sad to see this beautiful animal gone.”
“Oh no,” added Panithia Parker. “This was the last place I took my father before losing him to cancer. I have a picture of my dad feeding him.”
Kelly Anne Vanauker-Ergle also has memories of Khama, though maybe not as fond; the giraffe tried to eat her magnolia wedding bouquet during a pre-wedding photo shoot there in April, 2000.
“We were walking around looking for good spots, because normally you wouldn’t pose in front of a giraffe,” she said Wednesday. Still they stopped at the enclosure, and she turned to find the giraffe trying to munch on the arrangement “like it was an all-you-can-eat dessert bar.”
“No, I never went back to see him,” Vanauker-Ergle added. “But we did get a photo of it.”
Zeliff chuckled at the story. “They were just flowers to him,” she said.
While her grief for the animal is intense, Zeliff added she knows she must move on.
“As I told the others on the wildlife staff, this is part of taking care of animals, the good and the bad,” she said. “But I kind of wish it wasn’t during the holidays.”