(Saint Paul, MN) Last week, a team of animal care experts and veterinarians from around the US participated in a foot and hoof procedure on one of Como Park Zoo and Conservatory’s reticulated giraffes.

Last year, Skeeter, the 12-year-old male giraffe at Como Zoo sustained an injury that left him lame on his front left leg.  Voluntary radiographs on his leg within the week showed no obvious hoof or bone issues. Thermography (a process used to look at the heat an area of the body puts out) was used to diagnosis a tendon injury. Large animal surgeons Dr. Fausto Bellezzo and Dr. Micky Trent, both with the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, and who work as Como’s veterinarians, did the initial diagnostics and placed Skeeter on stall rest.  When it became apparent that Skeeter was not improving as expected, repeat radiographs were performed. By a second round of voluntary radiographs, a fracture to the P3 bone in his left lateral hoof claw was diagnosed. P3 fractures are not uncommon in giraffe but they are difficult to correct. Because of the fracture, Skeeter had started putting more weight on the unaffected claw, which caused the claw with the fracture to become overgrown. Como’s veterinarians determined that anesthesia and immobilization would be necessary to repair Skeeter’s hoof and the planning for the procedure began.  “Immobilizations of giraffes can be dangerous and difficult to execute because of their unique anatomy and physiology, and sheer size.” said Andrea Persson, Como’s onsite Vet Technician.

Because giraffes are an especially risky species to anesthetize, thorough and extensive planning was needed to ensure a safe and successful procedure. Como Zoo’s staff, along with Dr. Bellezzo and Dr. Trent, assembled a team of experts consisting of Dr. Jeff Zuba, recently retired from San Diego Zoo, Dr. Liza Dadone from Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and Dr. Priya Bapodra from Columbus Zoo who were all consulted to advise our team as each have a wealth of experience anesthetizing giraffes. Minnesota Zoo veterinarians, Dr. Taylor Yaw and Dr. Anne Rivas, were invited to join the team to provide their expertise in megavertebrate anesthesia. Dr. Tiffany Wolf, University of Minnesota wildlife epidemiologist, and four members of the UMN Veterinary Medical Center's Anesthesia team were also called upon to assist.   

Steve Foxworth, world-renowned farrier from the Zoo Hoofstock Trim Program, was consulted about the best management plan to address Skeeter’s P3 fracture, and together with Como’s veterinarians the decision was made to trim Skeeter’s hooves and apply custom-made shoes. The shoes act as a splint, limiting movement of the injured claw while the fracture fuses.  

As a team, several virtual and in-person meetings were held to come up with a plan to safely anesthetize, treat, and recover Skeeter. Among the things to consider were, where would be the safest space to perform the procedure, what anesthetic drug protocol to use, how to provide padding on the walls, what floor substrate would be best, what supplies we would need for positioning such a large animal, and what equipment would be required for anesthesia and monitoring.  

On the morning of August 12th, nine veterinarians, three veterinary technicians, three farriers including Steve Foxworth, and Como Zoo’s animal care team, all worked together masterfully to perform Skeeter’s procedure safely and successfully.

“The partnership with the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine is invaluable to our animals here at Como Zoo,” states Michelle Furrer, Como’s Zoo Director and Campus Manager.  “The ability to work with our staff to assemble a team of experts is a testament to the high quality of care all of our residents receive.”

Today, Skeeter is up, walking and enjoying his time outside in his habitat at Como Zoo.  Although not very visible, his new shoes on his front hooves will be removed in 8-10 weeks.

PHOTOS & VIDEO: https://bit.ly/37SaNWv

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