Houston Zoo's baby giraffe 'Yao' improves after life-threatening infection

Yao, the baby giraffe at the Houston Zoo, is improving after a life-threatening bone infection

April 11, 2013 3:43:34 PM PDT
A young giraffe at the Houston Zoo is making progress following a potentially deadly bone infection.

The giraffe, who was named 'Yao,' was diagnosed with the infection in his right shoulder last month. Vet staff immediately began an aggressive treatment.

Surgery was performed and now Yao is getting antibiotics and pain medications twice a day, as well as physical therapy sessions that involve a zookeeper or two walking him around an enclosed open air area between the giraffe barn and the exhibit yard. A medical team also flushes the area around Yao's shoulder joint daily.

Officials say Yao is showing improvement in walking and standing. His white cell count is also declining, which means the antibiotics are working to fight off the infection.

The giraffe is is eating well and gaining weight.

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.


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