Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Celebrates the Long Life of Tamu, Oldest Girafffe in North America

December 13, 2018

Colorado Springs, CO – Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is heartbroken to say goodbye to Tamu, our 32-year-old female reticulated giraffe, who was the oldest giraffe in North America at the time of her passing. Since coming to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in April 2003, she made strong and countless emotional connections with guests and staff alike, who often affectionately referred to her as ‘Moose’ or ‘Grandma.’

“She was the nicest giraffe on the planet,” said Jason Bredahl, animal care manager. “She would sit under the lettuce hut and eat lettuce all day long and made millions of people’s days. If you have a giraffe selfie on your phone, there’s a good chance it’s with Tamu. She was a guest favorite, for sure.”

Tamu was easy to recognize because of her dark, bushy eyebrows. Her 33rd birthday would have been Friday, Dec. 28.

“She was known for taking care of calves because she was so gentle,” said Amy Schilz, senior giraffe keeper. “I remember when we put up new shade structures in the yard and the calves hadn’t learned to use them as shelters when it rained. Tamu would go out into the rain to stand over the calves to protect them.”

Tamu became well known for providing that maternal comfort for our most recent giraffe calf, Penny, when she was too fragile to be with her mom. Giraffe keepers knew Tamu would be gentle enough to provide her with companionship and security without risking a fall for Penny.

“Tamu had a huge heart and brought Penny a lot of comfort in Penny’s final days,” said Schilz. “We all knew that when Penny’s mom was a little too rough for Penny, that Tamu could step in and provide that giraffe-to-giraffe care.”

Her individual contributions to the continued existence of this endangered species were invaluable. Tamu gave birth to six calves, leaving a legacy of 29 grandcalves, nine great-grandcalves and one great-great-grandcalf. In addition to the contribution of her direct descendants, as an ambassador animal, Tamu helped Cheyenne Mountain Zoo donors, members and guests learn about giraffe and foster important emotional connections to them, which allow us to support efforts that protect her relatives in the wild.

In the past 20 years, there has been an estimated 35 percent decline in wild giraffe populations. Giraffe Conservation Foundation estimates less than 15,785 reticulated giraffe remain in the wild.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has partnered with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation to support conservation efforts. One recent example is Operation Twiga, a giraffe translocation project in Uganda, Africa. A significant portion of the operation, over $75,000, was funded by Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s visitors and members through Quarters for Conservation, a program by which seventy-five cents of every admission is allocated to conservation.

Tamu and her Cheyenne Mountain Zoo herd participated in voluntary trainings that allow our vets and staff to help giraffe around the world in the wild and in human care. The giraffe can choose to participate in trainings that allow vet staff to perform research on hoof care and even build a life-saving plasma bank.

Although Tamu was considered geriatric, her decline happened extremely quickly and unexpectedly. Staff started to notice behavior changes in Tamu around 11 a.m. and said goodbye to her around 1 p.m., when she passed peacefully and naturally surrounded by keepers and vet staff who cared for her deeply.

“She will be missed so much,” Schilz said. “She was really, really smart. Just yesterday, she was participating in training for hoof care. She had a great heart.”

Photos of Tamu are available at this link:

About Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Cheyenne Mountain Zoological Society was founded in 1926. Today, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, America’s only mountain zoo, offers comprehensive education programs, exciting conservation efforts and truly fantastic animal experiences. It is Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s hope that guests fall in love with animals and nature, and take action to protect them. Of the 233 zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is one of just ten operating without tax support. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo depends on admissions, membership dues, special event attendance and donations for funding.