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Zoo in Southwest Virginia mourns giraffe's death
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Zoo in Southwest Virginia mourns giraffe's death

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Friends and family of the Fort Chiswell Animal Park are mourning the death of one of the zoo’s most popular animals. Cheeto the Giraffe died last Wednesday.

“It’s just so sad and shocking,” said Heidi Crosky, park manager.

Crosky said staff members found the beloved animal lying down in his pen on Tuesday, unable to stand. His neck was on the ground, too, which never happens.

“Their necks are always up,” Crosky said.

Staff members moved him to the barn and administered IV fluids, but Cheeto’s condition only worsened.

“We did not want him to suffer, and said goodbye to him on Wednesday evening,” Crosky wrote on social media. “It was one of the hardest things we have ever had to do. We have a lot of questions about Cheeto and asked Dr. Taylor to perform a necropsy.”

“We are awaiting the results from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and are hopeful they can answer some questions for us,” Crosky wrote online, announcing the animal’s death. “Words cannot describe how much we miss Cheeto. He was the first animal we checked in the morning and usually one of the last we saw at night. He had a gentle nature, and loved human attention. He watched for the buses, listened for the children, and would bend down to take lettuce from the tiniest hand. He eagerly waited for each guest regardless of how many people he had seen that day. Cheeto stole many hearts and our hearts will never feel the same. Rest in peace sweet boy.”

Cheeto came to the park in January 2018. Just over one year old, he was a reticulated giraffe, which are native to the Horn of Africa. Their reddish-brown spots are clearly defined and rounded.

To prepare for Cheeto’s arrival, the zoo had to grade land for his enclosure and build a barn big enough and tall enough to house the giant animal.

Standing 9-feet-tall at the time of his arrival, Cheeto was expected to grow to 16 feet. However, he was small and never grew to such heights. Crosky hopes the necropsy can also shed light on his small size.

The zoo held a contest to pick his name and chose Cheeto because it was creative, kid-friendly, and some thought that’s what he looked like.

His death is the second high-profile death at the zoo over the past two years. In November 2019, Humphrey the Camel died. Crosky said Humphrey had a camel’s version of appendicitis.

“It’s called a cecum in a camel, and it had burst,” she said in an email. “We later learned it is somewhat common in older gelded camels.”

Crosky’s post about Cheeto’s death on Facebook has garnered thousands of reactions, including words of sympathy and photos of the giant zoo resident.

“Cheeto loved people,” Crosky said. “I love all the pictures people are posting on our Facebook page with him. Cheeto’s favorite food was Romaine lettuce. His main diet was alfalfa and some grain. Cheeto liked to get face-to-face with his keepers. He liked to blow on your face and he liked for you to blow in his nose. It’s how I’d say goodbye to him at night. It’s how I told him goodbye this week.”

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