Giraffe, 9, dies of ‘acute spinal cord injury’ in freak accident at Kansas City Zoo

Hamisi, a 9-year-old male giraffe at the Kansas City Zoo, died of “acute spinal cord injury” from a freak accident in its barn.
Hamisi, a 9-year-old male giraffe at the Kansas City Zoo, died of “acute spinal cord injury” from a freak accident in its barn. The Kansas City Zoo

An adult male giraffe at the Kansas City Zoo has died after an apparently freak barn incident in which the animal suffered “an acute spinal cord injury,” the zoo announced Friday.

The 9-year-old male named Hamisi, which last year sired two offspring at the zoo, sometime early Wednesday morning got its head caught in an area of the barn that allows keepers have access to the animals. Zoo officials think Hamisi panicked, resulting in the spinal injury.

“It’s hard to believe that something like this could happen after 24 years of having animals in that building,” Sean Putney, senior director of zoo operations, said Friday. “We’ve never had an animal suffer an accident like this …. He managed to get his head over the top of a wall and get it caught.”

The giraffe barn was built in 1995 as part of the African expansion of the zoo.

Zoo head veterinarian Kirk Suedmeyer conducted a necropsy Wednesday and confirmed the spinal injury. He said it is likely the animal died instantly.

The zoo’s remaining giraffes, three adult females, a juvenile female and a juvenile male, are housed in a separate area of the giraffe barn that does not have the same configuration as Hamisi’s area. Putney said zoo staff nonetheless examined the entire barn to make sure there were no other unforeseen dangers.

The zoo plans to retrofit the area of Hamisi’s barn within the next couple of weeks.

Putney said the barn design was intended to give zookeepers access to a giraffe’s head at 16-17 feet high and had never been a subject of concern over years of animal safety and health inspections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The Kansas City Zoo is an accredited member of the AZA.

Putney said even though the danger was not recognized, “it’s not an excuse. We recognize that even one time is unacceptable.

“The staff is heartbroken,” he continued. “They work with these animals on a daily basis.”

The zoo’s remaining giraffes are not currently on exhibit because of the cold weather.

Zoo spokeswoman Kim Romary said Hamisi came to Kansas City from Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 2016. Last year he fathered baby giraffes that were named Dixie and Maxwell.

Hamisi’s accident happened on the same day the zoo announced that its elderly polar bear, Bam Bam, had died.

Dixie, a young giraffe at Kansas City Zoo, greeted visitors during her public debut on Wednesday. The 6-foot-tall calf and her mother, Lizzie, have not been on public display since Dixie's Feb. 2 birth as zoo officials waited for warmer weather.

Related stories from Kansas City Star