Willow, a giraffe at the Maryland Zoo, unexpectedly falls ill and dies

Published 3/28/2023 4:28 p.m. EDT, Updated 3/28/2023 6:53 p.m. EDT

Willow, a reticulated giraffe at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, died on Monday.

Willow, a 6-year-old giraffe at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, died after “suddenly deteriorating” Monday, zoo officials said. The team caring for Willow ultimately decided to euthanize her.

Willow, a reticulated giraffe, was born in 2017. Described as an “awkward calf with ossicles that looked like pigtails” when she was young, Willow grew into a tall, beautiful icon for both the zoo and her vulnerable species.

She is survived by her father, Caesar, who still resides in the zoo’s Giraffe House. Willow’s mother, Juma, died of lymphoma in 2017.

Willow was named during a public contest that drew more than 26,000 participants. In a statement, the zoo said Willow was special, and called her loss significant.

“We could go on about Willow’s goofy personality and many life milestones and know those topics will be in conversations today in our barns and your homes,” officials said in a statement.

On Friday, Willow showed a “sharp decrease in appetite,” zoo officials said, and began treatment. Veterinary staff monitored her around the clock, and she appeared to stabilize before yesterday’s sudden decline, officials said.

There will be a complete examination to determine the cause of Willow’s decline, the zoo said. Gastrointestinal issues are not “uncommon” in ruminants, such as giraffes, the zoo said. Mike Evitts, a spokesperson for the zoo, said it would be a few days before lab work returns and the cause of death is determined.

A reticulated giraffe is one of nine subspecies of giraffe. Reticulated giraffes are an endangered species and are native to parts of southern, eastern and central Africa. They can live up to 26 years in the wild, and slightly longer in captivity.

The zoo set up a webpage for people to leave memorial messages about Willow. On Facebook, hundreds of commenters shared their memories and photos of Willow.

The zoo euthanized another animal last month. Bud, an 8-year-old cheetah, also had a gastrointestinal illness, though his was described as long-lasting, rather than sudden.

Bud had lived at the Maryland Zoo since 2019, when he arrived with his brother, Davis, from a zoo in Nebraska. Davis is still at the Maryland Zoo.

This story may be updated.

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