Zoo prepares to say goodbye to country's oldest giraffe, Patches

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(Gray News) -- The country's oldest giraffe is going to palliative care at a Knoxville, Tennessee zoo. The staff made the difficult decision after the 31-year-old giraffe's painful symptoms of arthritis worsened beyond a cure.

Patches, country's oldest giraffe in Knoxville, Tenn. / Courtesy: Zoo Knoxville

Right now, zoo staff and veterinarians will determine when Patches' lameness and pain outweigh her quality of life, with no other medications to treat her. At that point, they will begin discussions on humane euthanization to avoid long-term suffering.

Zoo staff members are tracking her symptoms using a universal scoring system of lameness. This allows them to have a definable assessment of her pain and helps them determine if the medicine they give her is working.

About a year ago, staff at Zoo Knoxville noticed the aging giraffe had stiffness as she tried to walk. At that time, they started her on medicine to ease her symptoms. A few months ago, staff noticed her symptoms got progressively worse, so they adjusted medication and dosages as needed.

Her caretakers installed a camera system to watch her overnight, and they noticed she didn't lay down to sleep, but instead leaned against the barn walls.

A team from the University of Tennessee veterinarian college performed several scans on Patches to diagnose arthritis.

Most giraffes live to about 25 years old, but Patches exceeded that expectation. During her three decades at Zoo Knoxville, she gave birth to eight giraffes. Her youngest offspring, Lucille, was born in 2002 and lives with Patches at Zoo Knoxville.

The herd of giraffes at Zoo Knoxville is part of a collaborative effort with other zoos and partners in Africa to save giraffes from extinction.

Courtesy: Zoo Knoxville
Courtesy: Zoo Knoxville
Courtesy: Zoo Knoxville
Courtesy: Zoo Knoxville