Zoo prepares to say goodbye to country's oldest giraffe, Patches

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (Gray News) -- Patches, the country's oldest giraffe, is in her final days.

Patches, country's oldest giraffe in Knoxville, Tenn. / Courtesy: Zoo Knoxville

The staff at Zoo Knoxville recently made the difficult decision to move the 31-year-old into palliative care because her painful arthritis symptoms had worsened beyond a cure.

As Patches' pain becomes "unmanageable" with medications and there are no other options to treat her, the discussion will turn to euthanasia, the zoo said.

"Zoo Knoxville is choosing to share this difficult part of the circle-of-life journey to keep the community who has known and loved her for more than three decades informed about her status."

About a year ago, staff at Zoo Knoxville noticed the aging giraffe had stiffness as she tried to walk.

At that time, they started her on medicine to ease her symptoms. Then, a few months ago, staff noticed her symptoms were getting progressively worse, so they adjusted medication and dosages.

Her caretakers also installed a camera system to watch her overnight. With the video, they learned Patches wasn't lying down to sleep, but instead leaned against the barn walls.

A team from the University of Tennessee veterinarian college diagnosed Patches with arthritis.

Most giraffes live to be about 25 years old, but Patches exceeded that expectation.

During her three decades at Zoo Knoxville, she gave birth to eight giraffes. Her youngest, Lucille, was born in 2002 and lives with Patches at the zoo.

The herd of giraffes at Zoo Knoxville is part of a collaborative effort with other zoos and partners in Africa to save giraffes from extinction.

Courtesy: Zoo Knoxville
Courtesy: Zoo Knoxville
Courtesy: Zoo Knoxville
Courtesy: Zoo Knoxville