A giraffe at Wild Place Project near Bristol is posing a problem for keepers because he is afraid of heights.
They noticed there was something wrong when 12-feet high Tom was seen walking with his head down between his knees.
When he did raise his head up keepers noticed that he was unsteady on his feet as if he was feeling dizzy. Then the six-year old reticulated giraffe was spotted closing his eyes as he reached for food which is left at his head height.
He was also seen kneeling down for long periods when normally he would have been confidently strolling around his enclosure.
Tom was otherwise perfectly healthy so an animal behavioural expert Dr April Lye was called in by Zoo vets.
She studied Tom for several days and then told keepers he was probably suffering from vertigo.
Animal manager at Wild Place Will Walker said today (April 1): “It is hard to believe that one of the tallest animals on earth should be suffering from vertigo.”
Keepers at Wild Place have taken steps to try to make life easier for Tom in the enclosure which he shares with fellow giraffes Dayo and Tico.
They have spent the past week digging deep trenches so Tom can walk down into them and feel that he is lower to the surrounding ground.
The six-feet deep trenches wind their way for more than 100 yards around the enclosure and have gentle slopes at either end so Tom can make his way down into them and up again.
Will said: “It does look a little odd but it seems to be helping him. We led him towards the trench the first time and now he is finding it on his own.”
Tom’s feeding stations have also been lowered so he can reach his food kneeling down.
Dr Lye said: “Animals can experience vertigo in a similar way to people. It makes them feel unsteady and that’s why they want to get as close to the ground as possible.”
But she said Tom’s problem may only be temporary and that he should soon recover.
Will said: “Fingers crossed by the time Wild Place Project is allowed to re-open Tom will be walking tall again.”
Wild Place Project has just been voted the Best Visitor Attraction in the Bristol, Bath and Somerset Tourism Awards for 2020/21.
Its giraffe exhibit opened in spring 2017 since when around 900,000 have visited it to watch the giraffes and learn about the threats facing them in the wild.
The numbers of giraffe across the world have fallen from 140,000 to less than 80,000 in just 15 years. There are now fewer giraffes left than African elephants.
Bristol Zoological Society works closely with park authorities in Bénoué National Park, in Northern Cameroon, and the local Conservation Service to reduce threats to kordofan giraffes, such as poaching and habitat loss. It is estimated there are only 2000 of this sub-species remaining.
Wild Place Project and Bristol Zoo Gardens are owned and operated by Bristol Zoological Society, a conservation and education charity.
The Society relies on the generous support of the public not only to fund its important work at both sites but also to support its vital conservation and research projects spanning four continents.
Following the closure of the two attractions due to COVID-19 the Society launched an appeal to ensure the future of its work ‘saving wildlife together’.
To find out more about the appeal, or to make a donation, visit https://bristolzoo.org.uk/bzsappeal
For more information about visiting Wild Place when lockdown restrictions are lifted, visit www.wildplace.org.uk