Much-loved Michigan giraffe dies after fall

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

One of Michigan's best-known giraffes died after a trip and fall Thursday at the Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek.

Makena, a 21-year-old female, was the matriarch of the zoo's seven-member herd, and enough of an alpha figure among the reticulated giraffes that she led the others into the savanna exhibit every morning. A zoo spokeswoman said she was euthanized after a collision sent her tumbling in the giraffe barn.

Camera footage from the barn showed that the other giraffe in the mishap remained upright and was not hurt. Given their height and weight, the zoo said, it's not unprecedented for giraffes to be seriously or fatally injured in a tumble.

Makena, the star giraffe at the Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek, died after she collided with another giraffe. The 21-year-old female's collision sent her tumbling in the giraffe barn.

Makena was nearly 18 feet tall and weighed 1,800 pounds, and had enough tenure and personality that she had acquired two nicknames — "Mak," short for Makena, and "Mama," a recognition of her status and her success at producing offspring.

"Makena was still a smart and spunky girl who was a voluntary participant in her own medical care for things like ultrasounds, blood draws, and routine hoof care," said zookeeper Heather Kuikstra, who worked with Makena for six years. "She was curious, and highly motivated to interact with her keepers, especially if it would result in her getting some snacks; she had a special look that she would give keepers and no one could resist giving her the treat she wanted."

Born in August 1999 at the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, Makena was transferred to Binder Park in April 2005 and had four calves in her almost 16 years at the 433-acre property. A male, Hulka, remains at Binder Park. An older male is at the Columbus Zoo, while one female is at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas, and a second female, born in 2017, is at the Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville, Indiana.

Reticulated giraffes typically live 15 to 25 years in the wild, and even longer in captivity. They are considered a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with a 30% decline in population to some 111,000 in the wild.

The Detroit Zoo is home to four giraffes: Kivuli and Jabari, the mother and father of Mpenzi, plus Zara, who arrived in October from Peoria, Illinois, as part of a breeding program.

The Detroit Zoo is open year-round, with reservations required due to the pandemic. Binder Park Zoo reopens for the season on May 1.

Makena had been off exhibit for most of the 2020 season after a series of medical procedures that included stem cell therapy to treat arthritis in both front legs, a dental check and hoof trimming. Laser therapy and anti-inflammatories had led to significant improvement, said zoo veterinarian Kim Thompson, "And we felt that Mak was on track to rejoin the herd."

Twitter: @nealrubin_dn