Beloved giraffe with ‘magnetic personality’ and love of crackers dies at Florida zoo

One of a Florida zoo’s longtime animal residents died Sunday, Sept. 10, after a long battle with “ongoing age-related medical issues,” according to the zoo’s Sept. 12 announcement.

Rafiki the giraffe, one of the Brevard Zoo’s original giraffes for its Expedition Africa habitat, was “humanely euthanized” at 25 years old, the zoo’s blog said.

Rafiki was born in 1998 at the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens. About a year later, he moved to Franklin Park Zoo in Boston.

He later arrived to Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Florida, in 2003. When he walked off the trailer, he was “ready to make his mark capturing the hearts of everyone he came across,” Jon Brangan, the zoo’s deputy director, said in the blog.

“His magnetic personality never wavered, bringing joy to our staff, volunteers and thousands of visiting guests for nearly 20 years,” he said in the blog. “He will be profoundly missed by our Zoo family and our entire community.”

In recent years, Rafiki had struggled with several medical issues, such as arthritis.

This led to Rafiki’s declining public appearances at the zoo, as well as the plethora of treatments he underwent to ensure his comfort. Some remedies Brevard Zoo staff sought included hoof trims, acupuncture, chiropractic sessions and laser therapy.

In the week leading up to Rafiki’s death, Brevard Zoo announced the creation of “special polyethylene rubber ‘shoes’” to alleviate pressure and pain in his hooves. Zoo staff had taken action after noticing Rafiki’s discomfort in his left front hoof, which was causing “mobility issues,” according to the zoo’s Sept. 7 Instagram post.

By the end of the week, Rafiki had begun to lose his appetite and was entered into hospice care. After his condition worsened through the weekend, Brevard Zoo animal care team members decided euthanasia was the best route for Rafiki, the zoo’s blog said.

“Rafiki was surrounded by some of the animal care staff who have cared for him and loved him over the years,” the zoo said.

Rafiki was known to greet his zookeepers every morning something keeper Vanessa Kunz said she will miss.

“Walking into the barn will never feel the same without him there but I will always cherish all the memories I have with him,” Kunz said in the blog.

His love for treats — specifically rye crackers — serves as another fond memory for those who knew Rafiki. For his 24th birthday, zoo staff celebrated Rafiki with a cake “made of rye crackers and decorated with banana slices and sweet potatoes,” according to the zoo’s blog.

Zoo staff and visitors aren’t the only ones who will miss Rafiki. He fathered more than 12 calves during his time at the zoo, including 2-year-old son Mapenzi who will be the zoo’s “new breeding male giraffe,” the blog said.

Rafiki even had a “great grandcalf,” according to the blog.

“At 25 years old, Rafiki’s age was exceptional for male giraffes, whose median lifespan is about 15.9 years old in Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited facilities,” the zoo said.

Since the zoo’s Instagram post announcing Rafiki’s death, many people took to the comments to express their love for the iconic giraffe. Several people said they were “heartbroken” over the news.

A memorial area for Rafiki opened at the zoo entrance Tuesday, Sept. 12, for visitors to share their favorite memories and photos of the zoo’s cherished resident.

Melbourne is in Brevard County and about 70 miles southeast of Orlando.

Orangutan finds possum in its treehouse — and throws it ‘like a frisbee,’ video shows

Baby ‘bearcats’ that smell like buttered popcorn just born at Zoo Atlanta. Meet them