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Cummings School treats newborn giraffe

Published: Friday, February 7, 2014

Updated: Friday, February 7, 2014 08:02

The Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine last month successfully treated a baby giraffe in critical condition from Southwick’s Zoo in Mendon, Mass.

Abandoned at birth, the giraffe, named Daisy, came in for treatment as she was deprived of necessary nutrients after her mother refused to nurse her.

“Daisy’s mom rejected her, she was uncared for,” Mazan said. “When she came in she was cold, she was weak, she didn’t have any functional immune system, she had low blood sugar.”

Soon after birth, Daisy was found lying on the ground in a weakened condition with sepsis and pneumonia. The first action veterinarians took was to treat Daisy with antibiotics, according to Melissa Restifo, large animal medicine resident at the Cummings School.

“[Daisy] was very vulnerable to infection, so when she came, we put her on antibiotics,” she said.

Mazan noted that Professor Andrew Hoffman, Director of the Regenerative Medicine Laboratory, was the first to treat Daisy on the night of her arrival. While Daisy was not physically capable of nursing when she first arrived, veterinarians put a feeding tube down her nose and a catheter into her jugular vein to nourish her, Mazan said.

While Daisy slowly restored her strength, her health remained precarious for her first few days at the Cummings School, Restifo said. Mazan said that by the end of Daisy’s treatment, the giraffe was extremely strong, playful and enjoyed hitting her head on a suspended ball.

“She would hit it with her head until it would hit her back, and then she would look completely startled,” Mazan said.

The greatest difficulty veterinarians encountered was convincing Daisy to nurse from a bottle. ―Daisy was stubborn and easily distracted, Mazan said. Eventually, Daisy’s veterinarians persuaded her to nurse. 

“She finally got it,” Mazan said. “What you have to do is to reduce other stimulants and mimic what it would be like if she was nursing from her mom.” 

Mazan credited Veterinary Technician Maggie Underwood, Daisy’s baby nurse, with figuring out how to simulate normal nursing habits.

“If she was nursing from her mom, her head would be underneath the udder and it would be dark and it would be like she was in a little cave,” Mazan said. “So what Maggie, our baby nurse, figured out to do was to take a towel and put it over [Daisy’s] head while she was giving her the bottle.”

As Daisy recovered, Cummings School student volunteers continuously tended to the giraffe, Mazan said. These students sat with Daisy in shifts throughout the night, ensuring that she was safe, warm and fed. 

After Daisy’s treatment was complete, the baby giraffe returned to Southwick’s Zoo, according to Restifo. The zoo’s current owners are Cummings School alumnus Peter Brewer (V98) and his sister Betsey Brewer, according to Mazan.

“I’ve been [to Southwick’s Zoo] a couple times and it’s a wonderful place,” Restifo said. “We were happy to treat one of their animals.

Despite Daisy’s return to Southwick’s Zoo, Restifo noted that she would initially be kept apart from the rest of the giraffe herd for fear of injury. She said Daisy would not rejoin her fellow giraffes until she has matured sufficiently.

Mazan explained that Southwick’s Zoo paid for Daisy’s medical care at the Cummings School. Although the Cummings School is not a zoo hospital, caring for large animal patients like Daisy is not uncommon, she added.

“We’ve had zebra, wild horses, moose,
 camels, so I guess you can say we are kind of adventuresome,” Mazan said. “If it’s large, it ends up with us.”

The story of Daisy’s treatment and successful recovery at the Cummings School has interested Tufts pre-veterinary undergraduates. Laura de Armas, President of the Tufts Pre-Veterinary Society, remarked that she was surprised to learn that the Cummings School was treating a baby giraffe.

“Daisy’s successful recovery reminds me why I’m pursuing a career in veterinary medicine,” Armas, a junior, told the Daily in an email. “Such touching stories motivate me to keep working hard towards my dream of becoming a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. Who knows, maybe someday that’ll be me working to save a baby giraffe’s life.”

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