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Zoos Need To Stop Calling Giraffe Deaths 'Freak Accidents'

On Tuesday, a baby giraffe named Wesley died in the hours following what the Zoo Miami is calling a "freak accident."

The incident occurred around 9 a.m. Zookeepers brought another giraffe to a separate area for a medical checkup. Wesley wanted to see what was going on, so he rested his head over the fence between two poles.

"Curiosity brought him back," Ron Magill, communications director for Zoo Miami told The Dodo.

Had he lifted his head the way he placed it there, he would have been fine. Instead, he pulled back and felt his head caught between the poles. Frightened, his legs buckled from underneath him. That's when the spinal cord injury occurred, according to Magill.

The team was immediately able to remove Wesley from the poles, but the damage had been done. After hours of attempting to save his life, the zoo made the difficult decision to relieve the calf of his pain.

While Wesley's death is the first of its kind at the Zoo Miami, this "freak accident" follows a number of other similar tragedies across America.

In July, a 3-month-old giraffe whose birth was watched live by millions of people online died at the Dallas Zoo after running into the wall of her enclosure and sustaining a neck injury. She died immediately.

In a statement announcing the baby's death, the zoo emphasized the measures taken to prevent such situations. "It's heartbreaking that this happened where it did despite our precautions."

News outlets such as CBS called the Dallas event a "freak accident."

Then, in October, the Fresno Chaffee Zoo (FCZ) in California announced a similar tragedy involving a fence, which resulted in the death of another baby giraffe.

"It's the same type of barrier that we've had for over a decade, and it's never been an issue," FCZ media specialist Ciera Norton told The Dodo in a phone interview in the days following the incident.

That baby giraffe was only 1 month old.

Animal lovers have spoken out in response to the series of deaths.

"We must remember that these are wild animals, with responses and behavior adapted to life in the wild," Chris Draper, program manager for the Born Free Foundation, wrote in an email to The Dodo. He continues:

A restricted zoo environment, coupled with all the everyday trappings - fences, support posts, doors, ramps and so on - necessary to keep animals in captivity, is entirely at odds with the expansive natural environment and life of wide-ranging animals such as giraffes.

Of course, life in the wild is not without risk, from predators, disease and so on, and it is undeniable that accidents may also occur in the wild. However, keeping animals safe from harm is a stated objective of zoos and one might expect responsible zoos to work hard to design enclosures that come closer to meeting the needs of the animals and that present negligible risk to their inhabitants.

Following Wesley's death, the Zoo Miami welded a bar where the injury occurred to protect the remaining giraffes, who will likely remain in the zoo through the rest of their lives as well.

The Born Free Foundation believes that wildlife belongs in the wild. If you'd like to learn more about their efforts to protect wild animals and the places they call home, you can visit their website.