Happy Birthday to Michael the Giraffe!

By the Santa Barbara Zoo

Michael the Masai giraffe turns 16 on August 24, 2022. While he certainly is a “sweet” 16, he is also considered a geriatric animal and not a teenager!

Michael joined the Zoo’s herd in December 2011, coming from Parc Safari in Quebec, Canada. His journey was a long but important one: since he came from outside the U.S., he is considered North America’s most genetically valuable male Masai giraffe. He has sired 11 calves since he arrived and doesn’t show many signs of slowing down.

However, as Michael ages, he is starting to experience some health issues that are normal for older giraffes. He is currently being treated for degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis) and some foot/hoof issues commonly seen in large vertebrates. 

At the Santa Barbara Zoo, our focus is on giving the best welfare and quality of life to all the animals in our care. When a Zoo animal reaches geriatric status, they typically receive an assessment every three to six months (depending on their condition), and animal care staff will concentrate on making the animal as comfortable as possible. Our zookeepers also know the animals in their care so well that they are quick to spot subtle changes in an animal’s behavior and can take appropriate action right away.

In Michael’s case, keepers have added additional dirt to the barn floor, which is more comfortable for his arthritic joints. Part of his care routine also includes making sure he gets exercise, hoof care treatments, and regular supportive care for his joints, which includes pain medication.

All the Zoo’s animals get regular assessments, and animal care staff objectively look at how the animals are doing, asking the question: do we need to modify habitats, routines, or diet? With animals in our aging population, the assessments are done more frequently and through a different lens. For example, when looking at diet, the frequency and amount of intake are closely monitored. In some cases, a decision will be made to add supplements or even soften food. In the case of Asian elephant Little Mac, who had severe dental issues during her last years at the Zoo, her food was ground up each day to make it easier for her to feed herself.

Regular testing, monitoring, and assessing are key components of caring for an aging animal. The animals we work with every day are part of the Santa Barbara Zoo family (just like you!) and we care for our family a great deal. We are proud of Michael and the very important contributions he’s made to the Masai giraffe population.

To celebrate Michael’s special 16th birthday, his keepers threw him a birthday party with all of his Zoo friends. You’ll see them interacting with the birthday invitation and also bringing birthday gifts to Michael. Please enjoy this birthday party video!

Michael’s16th Birthday Party from Santa Barbara Zoo on Vimeo.


Written by sbzoo

The Santa Barbara Zoo is dedicated to the preservation, conservation, and enhancement of the natural world and its living treasures through education, research, and recreation. Learn more at sbzoo.org

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