Yao, the Houston Zoo giraffe, battling life-threatening bone infection

Just a few days old, Yao, the newest addition to the Houston Zoo's giraffe herd stays close to his mother Neema in the barn paddock at the McGovern Giraffe Exhibit in The African Forest. The paddock served as a nursery for Neema and Yao and allowed the rest of the herd to be introduced to the new arrival before Yao made his public debut. (Houston Zoo)

March 23, 2013 3:57:42 AM PDT
The Houston Zoo is asking residents to send their well wishes to Yao, the zoo's baby giraffe, after veterinarians determined the calf is battling a life-threatening bone infection.

The zoo says an equine orthopedic specialist discovered the infection in Yao's right shoulder this weekend and immediately began an aggressive treatment.

"Yao has quite an uphill battle ahead of him. We ask that everyone please keep Yao in their thoughts and prayers," Houston Zoo Director Rick Barongi said in a prepared statement.

The baby Masai giraffe was born at the zoo February 25. A week later, keepers noticed he was exhibiting signs of a minor sprain in his back left leg. When the limp worsened, veterinarians X-rayed the leg but found no evidence of bone damage. He was put on antibiotics and other preventative medication including anti-inflammatory analgesics.

But his condition was not improving, so the zoo called in Dr. Wyatt Winchell of the Brazos Valley Equine Hospital to examine the baby giraffe more carefully. That's when the life-threatening disease was discovered. The giraffe's joint had to be flushed immediately and then he underwent an arthroscopic surgery to remove some tissue and infected bone.

"Similar cases in domestic animals are difficult to treat and correct but we are doing everything possible to give him a chance to recover," said Dr. Wyatt Winchell of the Brazos Valley Equine Hospital. "He is being kept inside the giraffe barn with his mother Neema and receiving excellent round-the-clock care from his keepers and veterinarians," added Dr. Winchell.

Sixteen Masai giraffe have been born at the Houston Zoo over the past 12 years.

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