Zoo celebrates baby giraffe, mourns death of sea lion

The circle of life visited the Kansas City Zoo with the celebration of a baby giraffe and the loss of a 10-year-old sea lion — one of just three in a recently renovated pool exhibit.

A female giraffe born Aug. 4 went on display for the public for the first time Thursday. The calf weighed 145 pounds and stood about 6 feet tall at birth. The zoo now has five Masai giraffes, a subspecies of the African animal.

There are about 92 Masai giraffes in North American zoos. The Giraffe Conservation Foundation estimates that fewer than 40,000 are left in the wild.

But while the yet-to-be-named giraffe calf was making her debut here, the male California sea lion died while under anesthesia.

Geoff Hall, chief operations officer at the zoo, said the animal’s heart stopped Thursday morning as zoo veterinarians were trying to revive the sea lion after conducting medical tests to determine why it had not been eating.

The 420-pound animal, named Vince, had developed a swelling under its jaw in the last couple of weeks. It was being treated with antibiotics and pain medications. After consulting with the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif., officials here decided to immobilize the sea lion for a series of tests. An endoscopy, ultrasound, digital radiograph and an overall physical examination indicated nothing was wrong, Hall said.

A necropsy performed after its death, however, revealed a pulmonary disease. Tissue samples will be sent to a pathologist for additional information.

Vince had been at the zoo since 2004 and was a part of the popular sea lion shows. The death leaves the zoo with just two female sea lions, which were rescued as pups from California beaches in 2010 after being abandoned by their mothers. They were bottle-fed by humans.

Just a few years ago, the Kansas City Zoo had eight sea lions. Their 300,000-gallon exhibit, built in 1951, was resurfaced and painted last year.

“We will be looking to acquire additional sea lions in the next few months,” Hall said.